In Pennsylvania more often than not when one driver hits a stopped car from behind, the rear ending driver is going to be at fault. This is because of a Pennsylvania statute entitled “Driving Vehicle at Safe Speed”, 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 3361. This statute is also known as the “assured clear distance ahead” rule. Under this rule a driver must not drive at a speed greater than what will let that driver to stop safely behind another car in front of them. Therefore if you have a sudden slow down or stop because of traffic, a person who rear ends you will not necessarily get off the hook just because they did not expect you or traffic to stop so suddenly. It was their responsibility to make sure they were traveling at a safe enough speed, and kept a safe enough distance, behind you so that if your car did have to come to a sudden stop, they could also stop without hitting you. Likewise if the driver rear ending you is injured, depending on the facts of the case, the assured clear distance rule could prevent them from successfully bringing a claim against you.
There are situations where the assured clear distance rule will not either support or defeat a lawsuit when one car hits a stopped one. This was the holding of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Lockhart v. List. There a woman sued a garbage truck company when she crashed into one of its trucks that was stopped diagonally across both lanes of travel. She claimed she could not see the truck until the last minute because she just exited the final curve of a “S-curve” roadway before hitting the truck. The garbage truck company argued the woman was at fault for the accident because she violated the assured clear distance rule – i.e. that the truck was visible for her to see, and she was not driving at a speed that allowed her to safely stop without crashing into the truck.
However, given the fact that there was no clear evidence that the woman was speeding and there was a dispute of whether she could see the stopped garbage truck, the Court held the emergency doctrine should also apply to the case. Under this doctrine a person is not held to the “usual degree of care” or required to exercise his or her “best judgment” when confronted with a sudden and unexpected emergency created by someone other than the person claiming protection under the doctrine. Usually this doctrine applies when a moving object suddenly jumps out in front of a driver, but the Court held it should apply to the Lockhart case also.
Beyond proving fault in these types of cases, you will also have to show how the car wreck caused your injuries, and also what your damages are. Medical records, support from your treating doctors, and evidence that you were having no recent problems with the injured body part before the accident are helpful in proving this.
The attorneys at the Thistle Law Firm are experienced in handling rear end auto accident as well as all other types of auto accidents. If were involved in one and want to discuss your legal options you can reach us at 215-568-6800.