Presumption of Negligence in Rear End Auto Collision Cases
In the case of a rear-end car accident, there is a rebuttable presumption of negligence under Florida law. This means that the law presumes that the rear-ending driver was negligent, but that the rear-ending driver can present evidence that shows why the presumption is not applicable in his or her case.
What is Necessary to Rebut the Presumption of Negligence in Rear End Collision Cases?
Generally, in order to rebut the presumption of negligence on the part of the rear-ending driver, evidence must be presented that tends to show that the presumption is misplaced or that the facts, as they occurred, are not in accordance with those that would give rise to the presumption.
Recently, in Fonger v. Nall, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District, had occasion to consider the scope of the presumption of negligence on the part of the rear-ending driver in an auto collision case. The court noted that Florida courts have recognized the following four circumstances as among those that may rebut the presumption:
- mechanical failure in the rear-ending driver’s automobile
- a sudden stop by the rear-ended driver
- a sudden lane change by the rear-ended driver
- an illegal or improper stop by the rear-ended driver
Under Florida law, a driver to the rear of another may not follow more closely than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances. In Fonger v. Nall, the court elaborated on this, and stated that:
- a driver has a duty to remain alert and to follow a vehicle in front of him or her at a safe distance, and
- a driver must be prepared to stop suddenly and must be able to anticipate the sudden stops of vehicles ahead of him or her
Application of the Presumption; Fonger v. Nall
The facts in Fonger v. Nall revealed an accident between two cars that resulted after a first car (uninvolved in the legal proceeding) stopped suddenly on the approach to a busy intersection. Thereafter, the rear-ended car also stopped suddenly, and the rear-end crash occurred when the rear-ending vehicle hit the car in front of it. Despite the fact that a sudden stop by the rear-ended driver might be a circumstance that could warrant rebuttal of the presumption of negligence of the rear-ending driver, the court cautioned that a sudden or abrupt stop, by itself, did not rebut the presumption of the rear-ending driver’s negligence. In order to rebut the presumption of negligence, the court stated, the rear-ending driver had to establish that the sudden stop at issue was unexpected. The court found that while the facts in this case showed a sudden stop on the first car’s approach to the intersection, this was not an unexpected sudden stop. The stop was not unexpected because, as the court explained, sudden stops at busy intersections are not uncommon and often occur because drivers need to avoid pedestrians, bicycles, emergency vehicles, and the like.
Determining negligence, and knowing which presumptions may be applied in any given case, can be an important element of the success or failure of a personal injury claim. If you have questions about the presumption of negligence in rear-end automobile collision cases, or any other automobile cases, contact an experienced Fort Pierce personal injury lawyer serving St. Lucie & Martin County. At Sholtes Law, PLLC, we can help you to understand any presumptions that apply, and answer other questions about a potential personal injury claim.