Cleaveland v. Florida Power & Light, Inc., 895 So. 2d 1143 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2005)
This lawsuit arose out a multi-vehicle accident involving 5 vehicles in South Florida.
Hugh Cleaveland was seriously injured in a 5 vehicle accident that involved 3 Florida Power & Light Trucks. The accident occurred when the first 3 vehicles came to a short stop. The vehicle, an FPL dump truck, collided with the third truck. Cleaveland, who was following on his motorcycle, was the fifth. Before the multiple collisions occurred, traffic traveled at about 35 miles per hour. Cleaveland brought suit alleging negligence, vicarious liability, negligent training, negligent maintenance, inspection, and repair.
At trial, the facts of the accident were highly disputed – including different interpretations from expert witnesses for both parties. These disputes included whether the FPL drivers failed to maintain control over their trucks, the proper following distances, the speed the vehicles were traveling at, the time between the collisions, and the nature in which the lead vehicles stopped. Despite these highly disputed facts the trial court granted judgment in favor of FPL.
The central issue was whether the sudden abrupt deceleration and unexpected stop, at a time and place where Cleaveland could not have reasonably expected the truck he was following to suddenly skid and crash into another truck, created an exceptional situation that was outside the daily experience of the average driver.
On review of the trial court’s decision, the Fifth Circuit found that the rear end collision rule that recognized a presumption of the rear driver as the sole proximate cause of injuries and damage that results from an accident, when the collision is predicated upon a sudden stop alone. To rebut the rear end presumption, the lead driver’s stop must have been sudden and unexpected at the time and place where the stop could not have been reasonably expected. The Fifth Circuit Court determined that there was no evidence of Cleaveland’s negligence and that there was substantial proof that he was following at a safe distance. The evidence in this case demonstrated that the stop was both sudden and unexpected, demonstrating negligence of the lead driver. Because the rear end collision rule did not apply to the circumstances in the case, Cleaveland was not barred from recovering for his serious injuries.
The takeaway from this case is that the circumstances of a rear end collision will not always preclude the rear end driver from bringing negligence suits against lead drivers for their negligent operation of their vehicle. A sudden and unexpected stop in an area that the common driver would not normally expect someone to slam on their brakes, such as a highway, could generate a situation where the rear driver would not only be free from liability but could also recover for damages sustained by the accident.
If you have been involved in a rear-end accident and have questions or concerns about negligence, you should seek answers. The Fort Lauderdale accident attorneys of Madalon Law will gladly go over your case with you at no cost. Contact us today for your free consultation.