Florida law historically presumed the second driver in a rear end collision to be negligent, but evidence to the contrary can now be presented in court. Recent Florida Supreme Court decisions on rear-end collision cases have resolved conflicting lower court rulings.
In the case of Cevallos v. Rideout, et al., the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the trial judge in attributing sole and total fault to the rear driver in a collision. That decision was overruled by the Florida Supreme Court, clearing the way for the rear driver to pursue damages, even if partial, from the middle driver also involved in the three-car rear-end crash. The middle driver was allegedly on her cell phone and abruptly hit her brakes prior to colliding with the vehicle in front of her. The rear driver was not able to stop behind the middle car, and, as a result, became part of a three-car rear-end collision.
In its decision, the Florida Supreme Court wrote, “the presumption of negligence that attaches to a rear driver in a rear-end motor vehicle collision case can be rebutted or avoided by the production of evidence from which a jury could find negligence on the part of the front driver that contributed to bring about the injury-producing collision.”
In Florida’s comparative negligence law, juries are instructed to determine the amount of fault attributed to each party in a lawsuit. Damages are then calculated in part based on the extent to which a party is to blame for the accident.
The Florida Supreme Court issued a similar ruling while upholding Charron v. Birge, a 5th District Court of Appeal case. In that matter, the plaintiff, an injured motorcycle passenger, was allowed to pursue damages from the driver of the other vehicle who reportedly braked unexpectedly, causing the motorcycle to collide with the vehicle.
In this regard, the Florida Supreme Court wrote, “where evidence is produced from which a jury could conclude that the front driver in a rear-end collision was negligent in bringing about the collision—or that the negligence of the rear driver was not the sole proximate cause of the accident—the presumption that the rear driver’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of the collision is rebutted, and all issues of disputed fact regarding comparative fault and causation should be submitted to the jury.”
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