In rear-end collision at red light, negligence eventually demonstrated

Even though you pay for your own underinsured motorist coverage in your auto policy, when the time comes to make a claim, the insurance company may no longer be on your side. In the recent Connecticut Supreme Court case of Rawls v. Progressive Northern Insurance Co., a person whose car was hit from behind at a Bridgeport intersection went through two appeals to get underinsured motorist benefits from his insurer.

Three-car pileup at a red light

It was a clear night when the motorist came to a stop at an intersection behind another car waiting at a red traffic light. After about 15 seconds, he heard a noise and his vehicle was immediately hit from behind, forcing his car into the car in front of him. He blacked out, and when he awoke he was covered in glass. He was injured and his vehicle was heavily damaged.

The police officer who responded at the accident described the vehicles as being hit into one another, with heavy damage to the back of the plaintiff's car and the front of the following motorist's car, with minor rear damage to the car first in line at the light. The road was straight, flat and wide, according to the officer.

Underinsured motorist carrier steps in for the defendant motorist

Unfortunately, the motorist who caused the accident was underinsured, and contributed the limit of his policy to the plaintiff. The plaintiff's own insurer then took over the defense in the case to prevent having to pay its own insured for the balance of the damages.

The insurer claimed there was no evidence that the following motorist had been negligent, only that a rear-end collision had occurred; it continued this claim to the appeals court after losing at trial. Reasoning that the plaintiff had not submitted enough evidence, specifically eyewitness testimony, for the jury to find negligence and causation, the appeals court ruled for the insurance company.

Circumstantial evidence is still evidence

The Connecticut Supreme Court questioned whether the following motorist used reasonable care, and whether his actions were the proximate cause of the accident. Proof of negligence can come from circumstantial evidence of facts allowing a jury to logically infer other facts that are more probable than not; it does not need to exclude every other possibility.

The insurer stuck to its contention that the plaintiff had only proven there was a rear-end collision, and that the jury speculated to find negligence and causation. The court, however, sided with the plaintiff that there was enough evidence for the jury to find negligence by the following motorist.

Cars stopped at red light gave time to react

The fact that the plaintiff motorist was sitting stopped at a red light in back of another car for 15 seconds before the crash made it more likely that the following motorist was negligent in not keeping a proper lookout and failing to brake in time to avoid the accident. He had enough time to see the red light but did not stop as the other cars had done. He offered no evidence of his own reasonable care or other reasons for the accident.

The court found it more likely that the defendant had not been paying attention at the time and caused the collision, reversing the finding for the insurer.

Contact an attorney

In a case like this where the insurance company fights its own customer in a claim for underinsured coverage, an attorney experienced in handling uninsured and underinsured cases can help protect your rights.