The Rear-End Accident: What Happens When Driver Two Hits Driver One

Defending Trucking Companies Against Rear-End Accident Claims

Many of the cases handled by the CCTB Transportation Team involve rear-end accidents. We routinely defend these lawsuits whether our truck driver was rear-ended by another driver, or whether our driver rear-ends someone else.

The general rule in Mississippi that applies to these type of accidents is usually the same in both scenarios. As the Mississippi Supreme Court explained in the case White v. Miller, where driver two follows driver one, Mississippi law typically imposes the following duties on driver two (White, 513 So. 2d 600, 601 (Miss. 1987):

  • Driver two must have the vehicle under proper control
  • Driver two must keep a proper look-out ahead
  • Driver two must drive at a speed and sufficient distance behind driver one so that in the event driver one suddenly stops, driver two can likewise come to a stop without colliding into driver one.

Applying the previous duties in various factual contexts, Mississippi courts have come close to establishing a per se rule by holding that if driver two strikes driver one from behind, then driver two is negligent as a matter of law. As a result, in many instances, when two cars are traveling in the same direction, the primary duty to avoid a collision rests with driver two; in the absence of an emergency or unusual condition, driver two is negligent as a matter of law if he or she runs into driver one’s car.  e.g., Reese v. Summers, 792 So. 2d 992, 996 (Miss. 2001).

If an emergency or unusual condition does exist, however, then the general rule might not automatically apply to driver two in every situation—especially if driver one created the emergency or unusual condition. Whether an emergency or unusual condition exists under the particular circumstances is typically a matter for the trier of fact and presents a jury question.

For example, in the case Dean v. Dendy, 253 So. 2d 813 (Miss. 1971), based on evidence at trial, the jury found that a sudden, unexpected, and unnecessary stop constituted an emergency or unusual condition in a rear-end collision. Dean, 253 So.2d at 815. In the course of affirming the jury’s decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court noted that driver one is still required to exercise ordinary care for driver two: “A motorist intending to stop must use due care for the safety of others following so closely behind that they might be imperiled by a sudden stop.”  Id.

Mississippi federal courts have reached similar conclusions: “[A] driver of a trailing car is charged with the responsibility of exercising reasonable care to maintain a sufficient distance between him and the preceding car as will permit him to bring his vehicle to a stop without a collision, if the preceding vehicle stops in a reasonable, safe and ordinary manner.” e.g., Box v. Swindle, 306 F.2d 882, 885 (5th Cir. 1962).

Like the issue of whether an emergency or unusual condition exists, whether driver one exercised reasonable care in bringing his or her vehicle to a stop is a fact-specific inquiry that must also be determined from the surrounding circumstances and that usually falls within the exclusive purview of the jury as the trier of fact.