THE FLORIDA SUPREME COURT RULING ON REAR-END ACCIDENTS
Until recently, drivers in Florida who had been involved in rear-end auto accidents were left with minimal arguments as to who was responsible for causing a collision. It seemed clear for years that the person who was in the rear had to accept liability for any property damage or injuries caused. That discussion, however, was placed in front of the Florida Supreme Court, and decided on in November of 2012.
SUPREME COURT CASE BACKGROUND
The legal issue, which was brought before the Florida Supreme Court, began as a motorcycle accident in Sanford, Florida. One of the plaintiffs to the initial lawsuit, Crystal Charron, was a passenger on a motorcycle driven by William Smith. Charron and Smith originally alleged that Smith, the driver of the motorcycle, had impacted the rear end of an automobile driven by the defendant in the case, Warren Birge, because of negligent conduct of the defendant.
A personal injury claim was filed by Charron and Smith against Birge, alleging that he had suddenly come to a grinding halt on the highway, which both vehicles shared at the time. Smith did in fact strike the rear of the defendant’s vehicle, causing injuries to both of the plaintiffs. The sudden stop by Birge was said by the plaintiffs to have at least contributed to the cause of the accident and the injuries sustained.
Ultimately, plaintiff Smith settled his claim with the defendant, but plaintiff Charron continued with the legal action. The defendant moved for a Final Summary Judgment against the remaining plaintiff in the litigation, Charron, and was granted that motion. On appeal from the court’s ruling, Charron was then granted relief from that judgment based the fact that there was evidence provided by the plaintiff, who demonstrated that the defendant had at least some part in causing the accident. The conflicting decisions by the two courts were eventually brought before the Florida Supreme Court to be resolved.
HOLDING BY THE SUPREME COURT
After hearing the arguments presented by both parties, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of the appellate court’s decision in favor of plaintiff Charron. What had previously been so cut-and-dry as far as rear-end collision liability went, had now opened a window for rebuttal to the long existing presumption.
The court made three main points in their holding, which included:
- A presumption that limits a rear driver as the only responsible party to a rear-end auto accident, is something that can be rebutted. When evidence can be produced to show a jury that the vehicle in the front of the accident acted negligently in operating their vehicle, it should be allowed.
- Comparative Negligence is the law which governs, and to presume that a driver who rear-ends another person is the only negligent party has no legal substances.
- Regardless of a person’s involvement in the auto accident, whether they were driver/passenger of the front or rear vehicle in the collision, presumption of negligence will be available to them.
What this decision has done for rear-end auto accidents is create opportunities for all parties to argue why they are not at fault at all, or at least not fully to blame. An effort by William Birge, the defendant, was made to have a rehearing on the issue, but the Florida Supreme Court denied that hearing in January of 2013.
Rear-end presumption is certainly a grey area when it comes to auto accidents. If you have any questions concerning the rear-end presumption in Florida, please contact Madalon Law today for a free consultation.