Rear end collisions
This page discusses assessment of fault for rear end accidents.
Rear ending drivers will normally be 100% at fault
Rear end collisions are the “textbook example” of the type of accident in which one driver is solely responsible for the accident. Indeed, courts have commented that unless the vehicle rear ended came to a sudden and unexpected stop, the driver of the rear ending vehicle will be at fault for the accident:
There can be no doubt that, generally speaking, when a car, in broad daylight, runs into the rear of another which is stationary on the highway and which has not come to a sudden stop, the fault is in the driving of the moving car.
(Rintoul v. X-Ray and Radium Industries Ltd.,  SCR 674 at 677).
In the absence of any exceptional circumstances, the general rule is that there is 100% liability against a driver who rear-ends another. Although the circumstances are somewhat unusual, they are not so exceptional so as to persuade me that the general rule should not be followed. I find the Defendant 100% liable for the accident.
(Chorkawy v. Forster,  BCJ No 2692 at para. 26).
Generally speaking, when one car runs into another from behind, the fault is in the driving of the rear car, and the driver of the rear car must satisfy the Court that the collision did not occur as a result of his negligence.
(Beaumont v. Ruddy,  O.R. 441 at 442 cited in Reimer Express Lines Ltd. v. Burke, 2010 BCSC 450 at para. 36).
Drivers should anticipate that those in front of them might stop:
Any cyclist or motorist must be alert to the possibility that a vehicle immediately ahead may slow suddenly and unexpectedly to avoid a bump or a darting animal, to read an address or for no apparent reason.
(Rudman v. Hollander, 2005 BCSC 1342 at para. 21).
Drivers are expected to know the capabilities of their vehicle and it will be no excuse for a driver to say that they were unable to stop because their vehicle did not have anti-lock brakes:
It is noted that the claimant denied that she was following too closely to the vehicle ahead of her despite the fact that she failed to avoid the collision when the vehicle in front came to an emergency stop. The claimant admitted that the brake lights of the front vehicle were operational and that she was aware of the front vehicle slowing down. She suggested that the reason for her inability to avoid impact with the vehicle ahead was due to her vehicle not being equipped with anti-lock brakes.
I find the explanation to be totally unacceptable. Surely, all reasonable and prudent drivers are expected to be familiar with the capabilities and conditions of their vehicles. If they are not, then they should not be driving on public roads.
(Hamhuis v. ICBC, 2005 BCPC 570 at para. 25-26).
Section 162 of the Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c. 318 is relevant to rear end collisions and requires drivers to leave proper following distance between themselves and the vehicles in front of them:
A driver of a vehicle must not cause or permit the vehicle to follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the amount and nature of traffic on and the condition of the highway.
(Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c. 318, s. 162).
Courts have confirmed the requirement to leave proper following distances:
The operator of a motor vehicle, following other vehicles, should keep his vehicle under sufficient control at all times to be able to deal with an emergency such as the sudden stopping of a vehicle in the line of vehicles ahead and the telescope effect that results, as each successive driver attempts to bring his or her vehicle to a halt.
(Pryndik v. Manju, 2001 BCSC 502 at para. 21).
The driver of a following vehicle bears a duty to drive at a distance from the leading vehicle that allows reasonably for the speed, the traffic and the conditions.
(Rai v. Fowler, 2007 BCSC 1678 at para. 29).
Rear end cases involving split in liability
Where the leading vehicle stops unexpectedly, liability may be split between the leading vehicle and the rear-ending vehicle. In Smith v. Kandola, 1993 CanLII 2491 (BCCA)the plaintiff had to brake suddenly when the defendant’s vehicle, which was three or four cars ahead, blew a tire. In finding the plaintiff contributorily negligent for the accident, the Court of Appeal said the following:
The defendant submits that in any event there was contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff. It is true that the plaintiff reacted as reasonable driver would have in braking and turning to the right but that is not the issue. The question is whether he had to do so in order to avoid hitting the car in front of him. The evidence clearly established that was the reason he swerved. That leads to the conclusion that he must have been following too closely to avoid a collision with the vehicle in front of him and was therefore negligent.
As Mr. Justice Taggart said in MacDonald v. Hemminger (10 May 1985) CA001483Vancouver Registry (BCCA):
‘. . . emergencies constantly arise and for those emergencies all drivers must be prepared.’
In that case a leading vehicle braked suddenly without warning to the car behind. Two cars were able to stop without a collision but the driver of a third vehicle applied his brakes but was unable to stop in time. Liability was apportioned between the third vehicle and the lead vehicle.
In my opinion, fault should also have been apportioned in this case. I would apportion fault on an equal basis and allow the appeal to that extent.
(Smith v. Kandola (1993), 34 B.C.A.C. 318 at 320 (CA)).
In Cawson v. Quandt, 1999 CanLII 6051 (BCSC) the defendant stopped for deer that was on the road and was rear-ended by the plaintiff. The court found the plaintiff to be 85% at fault and the defendant to be 15% at fault. The court made that allocation of liability on the following findings of fact:
I find that when the plaintiff accelerated into the straightaway he not only exceeded the speed limit, but also was travelling at an excessive speed under the circumstances of the prevailing conditions. As a result of excess speed, the plaintiff failed or was unable to react appropriately, to avoid the defendant's truck which was stopped, or just proceeding forward from stopping, to let deer cross the road. In my opinion, if the plaintiff had been travelling at a more prudent and reasonable speed out of the South Curve rather than accelerating, he would have seen the defendant's truck earlier and appreciated the approaching situation such likely to avoid the accident.
However, I would like to note that stopping a vehicle in the lane of traffic on a highway, whatever be the reason, has its risks, especially at dusk to darkness or when dark, because it assumes following motorists are paying close attention and will react in a timely manner. This is often a risky assumption. When it is dusk or dark out, visibility and distance perception are reduced, thus risk created by stopping is magnified. The risk is further heightened when the stopped vehicle begins to move forward again. When this occurs, it is extremely difficult for following vehicles to judge the slow moving vehicle’s rate of speed, again, especially at dusk or night when visibility is reduced and navigation between vehicles is dependent on lights.
Consequently, I find that for a motorist in the same circumstances as the defendant, it would have been reasonable, cautious, and prudent for him to turn on his hazard lights when stopped, and to keep them on until he was up to a proper speed.
(Cawson v. Quandt, 1999 CanLII 6051 at para. 54-56 (BCSC)).
In Niven v. Raguz, 1991 CanLII 506 (BCSC) the plaintiff stopped at a green light in anticipation of an amber light because a police car had been on her right. The defendant rear-ended her, and was found 80% liable for following too close, particularly because of the reasonable prospect of ice or snow on the road surface. The plaintiff was found 20% of the liability for making a stop that was unexpectedly abrupt in the circumstances:
The defendant was too closely following the plaintiff's vehicle, particularly when there was a reasonable prospect of ice or snow on the road surface. On the other hand, the plaintiff made an unexpected stop which would not be reasonably foreseen, he was over-zealous in anticipating an amber light being apparently fearful of the policeman alongside him. I assess the defendant's negligence at 80 percent and that of the plaintiff at 20 percent.
(Niven v. Raguz, 1991 CanLII 506 (BCSC)).
The above cases illustrate that while there may be a split of liability in rear end accident cases, in order to escape being held fully liable the rear-ending driver will have to establish that the lead vehicle clearly contributed to the accident.
Cases in which lead vehicle was round to be 100% at fault
Although in most rear end accident the driver of the rear-ending vehicle will be 100% at fault, in unusual circumstances the result may be quite the opposite and the driver of the lead vehicle may be found 100% at fault.
In Ayers v. Singh, 1997 CanLII 3410 (BCCA) the lead vehicle stopped suddenly at a green light after he became confused by a left turn signal that had turned red, and was then rear ended by a vehicle driven by the plaintiff:
The trial judge found that the defendant's vehicle, which was the first of the three that I have talked about, came to a very sudden stop at the intersection. The trial judge also found that the reason why it did so was that the left turn lane signal had changed to prohibit traffic turning left and that Mr. Singh, who was not an experienced driver, reached the conclusion that the red light was for him and so he stopped. In fact, the light was still green for northbound traffic. The Chu vehicle, which was in the middle of the three vehicles, then struck the Singh vehicle.
(Ayers v. Singh, 1997 CanLII 3410 at para. 3 (BCCA)).
The Court of Appeal quoted the following passage from the trial judgment in which the trial judge concluded that the driver of the rear-ending vehicle was not at all responsible for the accident:
[T]his was a situation where drivers still on the green phase coming to the stop line certainly expected to go on through the traffic and no doubt were accelerating at that time. When they were confronted with the sudden stopping there was insufficient time for them to apply their brakes and stop in a timely manner. I am of the view that under these circumstances that certainly was an agony of the moment where it would be very difficult to stop and although I have given consideration to the application of contributory negligence, I am of the view that in these particular circumstances I would discount that factor.
(Ayers v. Singh, 1997 CanLII 3410 at para. 8 (BCCA), citing the trial judge).
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and upheld the conclusion of the trial judge that the plaintiff, who was the driver of the vehicle that rear ended the lead vehicle, was not at all responsible for the accident.
The above case confirms that if a driver of a lead vehicle unexpectedly stops the driver of the following vehicle may not be at all at fault for running into the back of the stopping vehicle.
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