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Rear-end collisions and the rush to settle

Rear-end collisions are not uncommon, but they are not simple or routine. Repeat after me: there is no such thing as a “simple” rear-end collision. Again, there is no such thing as a “routine” rear-end collision.

Rear-end collisions come on a sliding scale, ranging from the annoying to the frightening to the downright devastating. A long-haul trucker whose brakes fail at an off-ramp can total cars, wreck bodies, and take lives. On the other hand, a distracted driver letting his foot off the brake in snail’s-pace traffic will probably result in a dinged bumper and frayed nerves. What rear-end collisions often have in common is insurance companies’ haste in settling. Why could this be?

Liability in rear-end collisions is clear: whoever was in the second, following car assumes liability. This is true across the board: if someone slams on the brakes on the highway, going from sixty to zero, without warning, the driver of the following car is held liable for not maintaining “a safe following distance.” Without the need for much investigation to establish liability, there seems to be a reasonable explanation for why a settlement could be quickly reached.

Not so fast—insurance companies, whether representing the at-fault party or not, are for-profit entities that are not necessarily concerned with a just settlement. Often, a fast settlement is a way of foreclosing the possibility of greater damages being paid out later.

In the case of a catastrophic collision, like the hypothetical eighteen-wheeler mentioned above, expediting the settlement process may be to the benefit of the at-fault party’s insurer for a number of reasons. Accepting a settlement typically involves a signed agreement by the injured party not to seek further compensation. This could mean accepting payment before the full extent of injuries is known and then having no further recourse to the civil courts to pay mounting medical bills. Additionally, limiting the period of discovery prevents the uncovering of key evidence that could extend the circle of liability, such as proof of shoddy maintenance by the trucking company that makes them at-fault as well.

For less-catastrophic accidents, like the fender-bender in traffic, there is still a strong profit motive for insurance companies to settle quickly. Again, the full extent of injuries, such as whiplash, may take weeks to months to become known. Additionally, while fender-bender rear-end collisions may be “an annoyance” they are never “just” an annoyance. Days without a car, paying for a rental, worrying about a big road trip or family event that was scheduled for just a few days after the collision—all of these are stresses and anxieties that the injured party deserves compensation for and for which the at-fault party’s insurance does not want to pay.

No matter its scale, accidents are always nerve-wracking and stressful, to a greater or lesser degree. While you are emotionally vulnerable, you may be inclined to “get it over with” and accept the first settlement offered. Don’t let insurance companies take advantage of you when you are in a difficult place in the aftermath of an accident: call our office today to discuss your options.