The Rear Driver is Always at Fault in a Texas Rear-End Crash

The Rear Driver is Always at Fault in a Texas Rear-End Crash

Of all the legal myths I’ve encountered over the years, the one that seems to gain the most public traction may be “The rearmost driver is always at fault in a rear-end collision.” You may have heard that a few times yourself over the course of your life, and in most cases people say it out of the earnest belief that it’s actually the law: If someone hits someone else from behind, they’re to blame, end of story.

That is, in fancy legal terms, a bunch of hooey. Fault may sometimes seem pretty clear after an accident, but it’s never entirely automatic and it can’t be settled right at the scene by a simple look at who rear-ended whom.

So what makes people think there’s a one-size-fits-all rule for rear-end crashes? Well, it’s hard to say exactly where it began or how it persists. It might have started with a misunderstanding of some accident-related language they heard, like at-fault versus no-fault. Those may sound like guidelines for quickly deciding who’s to blame (as in “Texas is an ‘at-fault’ state”), but they actually just define someone’s financial obligations after an accident.

  • In at-fault states like Texas, the person a jury finds liable for causing the accident will be financially responsible for the resulting damages, which in many (but not all) cases will be covered by their insurance policy.
  • In no-fault states, it doesn’t matter which person caused the accident. Both drivers are required to carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policies that will cover their individual damages up to the limits.

As you can see, “at-fault” and “no-fault” aren’t actually about who specifically is to blame; instead they’re about what someone is on the hook for after a wreck. Still, it’s not hard to see how some might misunderstand those terms and spread that misunderstanding through word of mouth. The reality is that many rear-end crashes might be caused by something other than a careless rear driver.


It’s one thing to say a rear-end crash is more complex than just which vehicle hit the other from behind, but when might that be true? Here’s a few possible examples:

  • If Roger pulled out of a parking lot and into Marvin’s path, leaving Marvin no way to stop or steer clear, then a jury might decide that Roger was at fault for the resulting crash even though Marvin rear-ended his vehicle.
  • If Billy and Mindy were driving in adjacent lanes and Billy suddenly cut Mindy off with no warning or room to spare, a jury might find that Billy was at fault when Mindy hit his car from behind.
  • If Jenny drove ahead of Daniel and suddenly brake-checked him, leaving Daniel no time or space to stop, then a jury could find Jenny at fault despite Daniel rear-ending her vehicle.
  • If Terrence’s vehicle had defective or broken brake lights and he slowed or stopped ahead of Austin’s car at night, Austin wouldn’t have been able to tell he needed to stop too. In that case a jury might decide Terrence was at fault for the rear-end collision since he failed to maintain a critical safety system in his vehicle.

There are plenty of other examples where a driver had no way to avoid hitting the back of another vehicle, and in those cases both drivers may have strong opinions about which of them is to blame. The fact is that any credible dispute about fault must be resolved by a jury—the true arbiter of liability under the law.

Case Law: Pearson v. Deboer, Inc.

Texas case law clearly supports the idea that fault in a rear-end crash isn’t automatic. In Pearson v. Deboer, Inc., a Texas appellate court heard plaintiffs argue that a truck driver negligently hit their vehicle from behind in traffic and caused them property damage and personal injuries. After hearing arguments from both sides the jury ultimately disagreed with the plaintiffs that the trucker was negligent, which in turn meant he wasn’t at fault for the damage done. In their analysis of the case, the presiding judges wrote:

The mere occurrence of a rear-end automobile accident is not of itself evidence of negligence. The plaintiff must prove specific acts of negligence on the part of the following driver and must also prove proximate cause.

Pearson v. Deboer, Inc., 99 S.W.3d 273

Some may be surprised to see me citing a case where a truck driver wasn’t to blame, but the language from the judges is quite clear: Just because a crash is a rear-end collision doesn’t mean the person in the back is automatically at fault.

What This Means

The big takeaway from all this is that fault can rarely if ever be decided on the spot. The legal myth that a rear-end collision is always the rear driver’s fault circulates all the time, but it’s simply not true. Is it generally the case that such accidents aren’t like any of the above scenarios and the following driver was just negligent? Sure, and if you wanted to say it’s more likely that the rear driver is at fault that’s fine. However, alleging that it’s always the case isn’t accurate and ignores the actual letter of the law. Whether that knowledge keeps you from accidentally admitting fault after a wreck, or just lets you to say “actually…” next time you hear someone repeat the myth of automatic fault, we’re happy to help either way.

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Medo Mstfa

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