Rear-end collisions carry a presumption of negligence

Many of us have experienced that moment. That moment when you’re driving to work, or school, or to pick-up the kids, and, then, boom – you’re rear-ended. You may have noticed that the driver behind you was following a little close, or maybe they hit you out of nowhere.

In some situations, the other driver will apologize and hand over their insurance information without you even having to ask. And sometimes, they will accuse you of a dangerous maneuver, perhaps stopping suddenly. Even if you did make a sudden stop, does it change the liability of the driver who rear-ended you? It might, but they will have a lot to prove.

The Second District Court of Appeals has long held that in a rear-end collision there is a presumption of negligence on the driver who’s front-end hits the rear of the preceding vehicle: “[T]estimony of plaintiff that she stopped her automobile at intersection where traffic light showed red, and while still sitting there, defendant's automobile crashed into back of her automobile, created a presumption of negligence sufficient to require defendant to show that he was not at fault….” McNulty v. Cusack, 104 So. 2d 785 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1958).

Florida courts have continued to endorse this rebuttable presumption of negligence theory: “Where defendant runs into rear of plaintiff's automobile while plaintiff is stopped for traffic light or at an intersection, there arises a rebuttable presumption of defendant's negligence upon which plaintiff is entitled to recover in absence of an explanation by defendant.” Gulle v. Boggs, 174 So. 2d 26 (Fla. 1965)

Therefore, in a claim against a driver who rear-ended you, there will be a presumption of negligence on the opposing party; however, this presumption is rebuttable. How does the defendant rebut this presumption?

The defendant must prove more than the plaintiff’s stop was sudden. The defendant must prove that the plaintiff’s sudden stop was at a time and place that could not be reasonably expected:

It is not merely an ‘abrupt stop’ by a preceding vehicle (if it is in its proper place on the highway) that rebuts or dissipates the presumption that the negligence of the rear driver was the sole proximate cause of a rear-end collision. It is a sudden stop by the preceding driver at a time and place where it could not reasonably be expected by the following driver that creates the factual issue.

            Tacher v. Asmus, 743 So. 2d 157, 158 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1999)

The court continued, “a sudden stop by a preceding driver or drivers approaching or going through a busy intersection should be reasonably expected so as to impose a duty on the drivers which follow them to operate their vehicles at a safe distance.” Id.

In 2000, Tacher v. Asmus was distinguished by Eppler v. Tarmac America, Inc. In Eppler, the Florida Supreme Court held that, when a light turns from red to green, and the preceding vehicle makes an abrupt and arbitrary stop, it is not reasonably expected and the presumption of negligence is misplaced. Eppler v. Tarmac Am., Inc., 752 So. 2d 592, 595 (Fla. 2000). The Defendant was able to produce evidence to show that he was maintaining a safe distance behind the Plaintiff; all vehicles had begun moving forward; Defendant had shifted from first to second gear and had been traveling in second gear for three to four seconds before the Plaintiff’s abrupt stop. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Defendant. Id.

In summary, if you are rear-ended by the vehicle traveling behind you, there will be a rebuttable presumption that the other driver was negligent; however, the other driver can overcome this presumption if they produce evidence that their conduct was appropriate and your stop could not reasonably be expected.

Avoid injury, financial burden, and extreme frustration associated with a rear-end collision by maintaining a safe distance between you and the car in front; signaling before maneuvers; and not allowing yourself to be distracted by phones or other electronics.