I have always understood that if a driver bumps into the car in front, the driver of the rear vehicle is 100% at fault.
However, a recent Scottish case heard in the All-Scotland Personal Injury Court, has turned this general assumption on its head. The case is Leslie O’Donnell v Lisa Smith. Lisa Smith was driving on the A82 by Tarbert. Behind her were three motorcyclists who were on a tour. Ms Smith’s own evidence was that she became “apprehensive” when she saw the motorcyclists in her rear view mirror and basically performed an emergency stop. Mr O’Donnell who was an experienced motorcyclist was travelling at around 55-60 mph. He caught up with Ms Smith’s vehicle positioning himself at about 50 -60 metres behind her. The other two motor cyclists were travelling around 50 metres behind Mr O’Donnell.
When Lisa Smith braked harshly Mr O’Donnell also braked hard but unfortunately was unable to avoid hitting the rear of Ms Smith’s car breaking his right wrist and right knee.
The case was defended on the basis that Mr O’Donnell was riding “too close” to the back of Ms Smith’s car and that he was travelling “too fast”.
The leading Scottish Court authority on maintaining a safe distance states that “there is no single rule that specifies the distance that should separate two vehicles travelling one behind another. But a following driver should drive in such a manner as to be able to deal with all traffic exigencies reasonably to be anticipated.”
In this case the Sheriff determined that there was no legitimate reason for Ms Smith to be “apprehensive” of the presence of the motorcyclists and “no reason whatsoever for her to brake.”The Court upheld that Ms Smith breached her duty of care towards other road users and it was her negligence that caused the accident. An award of £47,000 was made to Mr O’Donnell in damages.
Each case will turn on its own facts and circumstances but the point to be learned here is simply that there is no steadfast rule which means that a rear-end collision will automatically give rise to negligence on the part of the following driver.