Recently, an appellate court addressed an appeal in a Florida car accident case hinging on issues regarding the presumption of negligence in rear-end accidents. The plaintiff appealed a trial court’s ruling in favor of the defendant, who the plaintiff claimed rear-ended her vehicle. The accident allegedly occurred when the plaintiff was approaching an intersection, and the car in front of her suddenly stopped. The plaintiff and the defendant simultaneously applied their brakes; however, the plaintiff was able to avoid hitting the car in front of her, but the defendant slammed into the plaintiff. After the plaintiff’s case was dismissed by the trial court, the plaintiff appealed, arguing that the defendant did not provide enough evidence to rebut the presumption of negligence.
Under Florida law, rear-end accidents create a rebuttable presumption that the rear driver was negligent. Generally, the only way in which a rear driver can rebut this presumption is if they provide evidence that shows that the presumption is “not as presumed” or misplaced. If the rear driver can rebut the presumption, the jury will then make the typical comparative fault determination. Rear drivers will often claim that the lead driver engaged in some behavior that made it impossible for the rear driver to avoid an accident.
Typically, Florida courts permit rear drivers to rebut the presumption under only four circumstances. Defendants can rebut the presumption if 1.) their vehicle suffers a mechanical failure, 2.) the lead driver suddenly stopped, 3.) the lead driver suddenly changed lanes, or 4.) the lead driver made an illegal stop. However, an abrupt or sudden halt by itself is not enough to rebut the presumption. Courts explain that drivers have a duty to remain alert and to keep a safe following distance at all times, especially at common stopping locations, such as intersections.