In Florida, there is a rebuttable presumption that the rear driver caused a rear-ending car accident–that the rear driver’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of a collision. When this rule was put in place, Florida was a contributory negligence state. That meant that when a plaintiff was at all at fault, the defendant could use the plaintiff’s negligence to show he or she should not recover any damages, even when the plaintiff was only slightly at fault.
Last year, the Florida Supreme court decided a rear-ending car accident case that clarified what the rear end presumption means today when contributory negligence is no longer a bar against a plaintiff’s recovery of damages in an auto accident. In that case, a motorcycle passenger was injured when the motorcycle driver unsuccessfully tried to avoid crashing into the rear end of the defendant’s car. The car was driving 35 miles per hour down the road when he unexpectedly slammed on his brakes for no observable reason.
Eyewitness accounts differed. The plaintiff could not rebut the presumption of negligence attached to the driver of the motorcycle as the rear driver in a rear-ending accident. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.
The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court reversed on the basis that she had produced evidence which a jury could have examined to conclude the car driver was negligent and at least comparatively at fault. Florida is a comparative fault state. This means that a plaintiff’s award is reduced by the amount to which he or she is at fault for an accident. The appellate court reasoned that because Florida is governed by comparative fault principles, the presumption of negligence attached to the rear driver is not conclusive if a jury is able to find negligence on the part of a front driver.
The Supreme Court was asked to review. It considered whether the rear driver presumption could be overcome by producing evidence from which a jury would find the front driver’s negligence a proximate cause of the collision. Alternatively, it had to consider whether the party rebutting the presumption would have to establish total absence of rear driver negligence to establish a personal injury claim at all.
The Florida Supreme Court explained that the rear end presumption does not bar a rear driver or passenger from bringing a claim if there is evidence from which a jury could determine the front driver was negligent and comparatively at fault. The rear end presumption is supposed to be a tool to fill gaps that sometimes occur when there is no evidence to determine liability or causation.
The Florida Supreme Court also explained that when someone rebuts the presumption of rear-driver negligence, the presumption is nothing more than a permissible inference or deduction that permits but does not require the jury to find negligence by the rear driver.
The rear-end presumption is used only if there is an absence of evidence within which the jury may make a determination. Otherwise, it does not matter whether the plaintiff is the driver of the front or rear vehicle or a passenger. The same legal result must be able to be achieved irrespective of who filed the lawsuit. Therefore the presumption applies or does not apply equally to all the parties, regardless of which position the plaintiff’s car was in.
If you or a loved on has been seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence, contact an experienced South Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.
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