Every year, there are roughly 1.7 million rear-end collisions on U.S. roadways, killing some 17,000 and injuring another 500,000. That’s according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board, which has been pushing for years for automakers to make collision avoidance systems standard in all vehicles. The NTSB estimates 80 percent of deaths and injuries resulting from rear-end crashes could be avoided with such systems, available in some makes and models, but not yet all.
As Fort Lauderdale injury lawyers can explain, the occasion of a rear-end collision carries with it the rebuttable presumption of negligence by the driver in the rear. A rebuttable presumption is a legal presumption made by the court, taken as try unless someone can prove otherwise. Thus, it is presumed that the driver in the rear of a rear-end collision was in the wrong because he/she is required by law to maintain an assured clear distance.
An increasing number of rear-end collisions are caused by driver distraction, particularly with smartphones. Evidence that a driver was distracted at the time of a collision can be used as additional evidence of negligence in car accident litigation.
However, as noted in a recent Florida car accident lawsuit ruling by Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal, the presumption that the rear driver’s negligence was the only cause of a crash can be rebutted if there is any evidence from which a jury can infer the front driver was also negligent. In other words, the rear-end collision rebuttable presumption doesn’t supersede the state’s comparative negligence system, as outlined in F.S. 768.81, wherein a claimant’s own fault contributing to an injury proportionally diminishes the amount of damages he or she can collect.
So for example, if the front driver in a rear-end collision suffers $180,000 in damages from the crash but is deemed 25 percent at-fault, he will only be entitled to receive 75 percent of his total damages, or $135,000, from the rear driver.
Rebuttable Presumption as a Matter of Law vs. Fact
The rebuttable presumption allows courts to decide a rear driver negligent for a rear-end crash as a matter of law. However, where there is a dispute as to whether plaintiff shared some of that fault, this is a matter for the jury to decide. That’s what the appellate panel ruled in the March 2019 case of Restal v. Nocera et al. Here, the appellate panel agreed in part with a defendant who argued the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment on the issues of causation and liability in a rear-end crash, and the case was sent back to the lower court for retrial.
According to court records, defendant struck the rear of plaintiff’s vehicle, causing her to sustain personal injuries. According to plaintiff’s testimony, she was on an unfamiliar road and tried to make a U-turn, only to realize she couldn’t legally make a U-turn there. In heavy traffic, she slowed, but maintained she never hit her brakes or moved into the turn lane. She was soon after struck from behind.
Defendant argued plaintiff had stopped, that he saw her brake lights and at the time he struck the rear of her vehicle, he was about half a car length behind her. From the time he saw brakes to the time of impact, he estimated about 3 seconds had passed. He did note, however, that he failed to remain a proper distance behind her.
The court granted a partial summary judgment to plaintiff on the issue of liability and the trial proceeded solely on the issue of damages, which plaintiff won.
Defendant appealed, arguing the issue of causation and liability should have been taken to the jury as well because even the rebuttable presumption of his own negligence didn’t negate plaintiff’s alleged negligence. The appellate panel agreed. There was significant difference in the testimony with regard to whether plaintiff applied her brakes and stopped prior to the crash.
“There was evidence from which a jury could have inferred (plaintiff) was also partially liable for the collision,” justices wrote.
This case illustrates why even if you are injured in a Fort Lauderdale rear-end collision, you cannot presume the case will be an easy win. An experienced injury attorney can help you build your case.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Restal v. Nocera et al, March 8, 2019, Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals