Car accidents can happen in many different ways, and not all accidents occur in active traffic. Many accidents happen when drivers least expect them, such as when they are pulling out of a parking space or backing out of their driveway. When you back up your vehicle in any situation, it is vital to check carefully to ensure the way behind you is clear of oncoming traffic, pedestrians, and others that might be in the way. When back-up accidents happen, drivers involved are likely to wonder who is at fault.

California state law maintains that the driver occupying a lane of traffic has the right of way when a reversing accident happens. This means that in most cases, the reversing driver is liable for a back-up accident. However, there are some situations in which the other driver bears fault for this type of accident. If you or a loved one were recently involved in a back-up accident in California, it’s vital to understand the negligence laws of California and your legal options for securing compensation for your damages.

Who is at fault in a car accident when backing up?

How Does Negligence Work in California?

Every state enforces negligence laws that fall into one of three categories:

  1. Contributory negligence states do not allow plaintiffs to recover compensation for damages if they bear even slight fault for causing those damages. This means if a plaintiff is found to be even 1% at fault for causing their claimed damages, they cannot recover compensation from the defendant.
  2. Modified comparative negligence is the most commonly used negligence law in the US, and this statute allows a plaintiff to recover partial compensation when they bear some fault for causing their claimed damages. However, the threshold of recovery is 50%. If the plaintiff is 50% or more at fault, they lose the right to recover compensation.
  3. Pure comparative negligence states like California allow plaintiffs to recover compensation for damages with partial fault, and there is no threshold of fault barring plaintiff recovery. Theoretically, a plaintiff could be 99% at fault for causing their claimed damages and still have the right to claim the remaining 1% of their damages.

When California’s pure comparative negligence law comes into play in a car accident claim, the plaintiff loses a percentage of their case award equal to their fault percentage assigned by a judge. For example, if a judge finds a plaintiff 10% at fault in a $100,000 claim, the plaintiff loses 10% of their case award, resulting in a $90,000 recovery instead.

In a civil claim pertaining to a reversing accident, the driver who backed up into the path of another driver or directly into another vehicle would be at fault for the accident. However, if the driver was speeding, or if the accident happened at night and they did not have their vehicle’s lights engaged, these issues could constitute comparative negligence. If you are unsure whether comparative negligence is likely to come into play in your car accident claim, it is vital to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

Potential Damages in a Reversing Accident Case

When one vehicle backs up and collides with another, the incident can easily result in substantial losses for both drivers. If the reversing vehicle backed up into the path of an oncoming car, the oncoming car could hit the reversing vehicle in its side, causing a “T-bone” accident. Depending on the side hit, this type of crash can cause devastating injuries and damage the vehicle beyond repair. If the reversing driver is at fault, they may need to rely on their own insurance coverage and pay for their damages out of their own pocket. However, if they can prove the other driver was partially at fault they may reduce their overall financial liability for the other driver’s damages.

It’s also possible for reversing accidents to result in injuries to bystanders, such as cyclists and pedestrians the reversing driver did not notice before backing up. This type of accident can be especially dangerous, particularly when a driver backs up out of a driveway in a residential neighborhood where small children may be nearby. Ultimately, a reversing accident can easily result in severe physical injuries that prevent victims from working for extended periods, substantial property damage, and pain and suffering.


How Do Insurance Companies Determine Fault?

When an auto insurance claim is filed, the insurance company will start an investigation to determine exactly how the accident happened and who is to blame. The insurance company reviewing a claim related to a back-up accident will want to know which driver had the right of way, where the accident occurred, and whether the driver with the right of way bears any partial responsibility for the incident.

Is the Reversing Driver Always at Fault?

California law maintains that a driver moving in a lane of traffic has the right of way. In most reversing accident cases, the reversing driver is at fault for the resulting damages. Depending on the unique details of the situation and how the accident occurred, however, it is possible for the other driver to bear partial liability.

What Should I Do After a Minor Back-Up Accident?

It’s possible for a back-up accident to cause nothing more than cosmetic damage to the vehicles involved, and the drivers can likely settle this matter privately between themselves. However, California law requires drivers to report accidents that cause death, injury, or substantial property damage. If you have any room to doubt whether you need to report an accident, it is always best to be safe and report it so there is an official record of the incident.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Reversing Accident Claim?

Filing an auto insurance claim is much easier with an attorney’s assistance, and if you must file a civil claim against another driver it’s vital to have legal representation. Attempting to navigate any civil claim without an attorney is very risky, and even a seemingly straightforward claim can generate incredibly complex legal proceedings the average person would not know how to navigate alone.

Easton & Easton can provide the comprehensive legal counsel you need after an accident with unclear liability. If you hit another driver while backing up or another driver hit your vehicle while reversing, contact us today and schedule a consultation to learn more about your legal options.