Rear-End Car Accidents Are Not Always Black and White When It Comes To NegligenceSeibert v. Riccucci, 84 So. 3d 1086 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2012), reh’g denied (Apr. 19, 2012)

This rear-end auto accident case arose out of a collision that occurred on US 1 in Brevard County. Dianna Douglas Seibert, the Plaintiff brought suit against Louis Riccucci, the cement truck driver and Tarmac America, LLC, the driver’s employer.

Riccucci and Douglas-Siebert were travelling on south on U.S. 1 on a clear day. Riccucci was driving his cement truck behind Douglas-Seibert as she followed behind a SUV. All of the vehicles were stopped at a red light. When the traffic light turned green the vehicles continued in the left hand most lane at about 40-45 miles per hour. Douglas-Seibert had about 2 car lengths between her and the SUV in front, when suddenly a Ford Mustang pulled out of a right-hand street, crossed the 3 southbound lanes of US 1 cutting in front of the SUV in front of Douglas-Seibert and then turned northbound. The SUV braked to avoid colliding with the Mustang causing Douglas-Seibert to brake as well to avoid hitting the SUV. As soon as the Mustang cleared the left lane the SUV proceeded forward; however Douglas-Seibert was still stopped when Riccucci rear-ended her car.

At trial, Douglas-Seibert requested the trial court to direct the verdict in favor of Riccucci’s negligence. The trial court denied her request but did grant it in regards to her lack of negligence. On appeal, Douglas-Seibert argued to the Fifth District court of Appeals that Riccucci failed to present sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of negligence by a rear driver in a rear-end collision and so had erred in denying her a verdict in favor of Riccucci’s negligence. The Fifth Circuit agreed with Douglas-Seibert stating that the rear end driver is presumed to be negligent but can rebut this presumption by presenting evidence supporting a reasonable explanation of why he was not negligent. The court stated that 4 types of explanations have been accepted

  1. a mechanical failure in the rear driver’s vehicle,
  2. the lead driver’s sudden stop,
  3. the lead driver’s sudden lane change, and
  4. the lead driver’s illegal or improper stop.

Riccucci argued that exceptions 2 and 4, of a sudden stop and illegal or improper stop, supported the trial court’s denial of a directed verdict as to his negligence. The court stated in regards to a sudden-exception that evidence of a “sudden stop without more is insufficient because a rear driver must anticipate sudden stops by lead drivers and that all drivers, must be prepared to stop suddenly by providing themselves a cushion of stopping space therefore it is logical to charge the rear driver with responsibility because they are in control of the following distance. The court concluded that for a sudden stop exception to apply the lead driver must have stopped at a time and place where it could not be reasonably expected by the following driver and that the facts presented in this case are not enough to support the finding that the Douglas-Seibert’s stop was not reasonably anticipated at the time and place where she stopped.

The court also disagreed with the Riccucci’s claim that Douglas-Seibert’s stop was illegal or improper because the facts showed that she stopped to avoid a rear-end collision with the SUV and that the fact that the SUV’s driver realized that they could safely continue doesn’t mean that she had a duty to follow immediately. The court concluded that evidence Riccucci presented was insufficient to rebut the presumption of negligence by the following driver in the rear-end collsion.

This case illustrates the ways a rear drivers involved in rear-end collisions can rebut their presumption of negligence. However this case also illustrates that the evidence to do so must be clear and that it is not enough to make assertions of the lead driver’s error.

If you have been involved in a rear-end car accident and have questions, please contact our Fort Lauderdale car accident attorneys and they will gladly go over your case with you for free.