Presumption of negligence by rear-ending driver may be rebutted

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December 27, 2012

Presumption of negligence by rear-ending driver may be rebutted 

The presumption that a rear driver’s negligence was the sole cause of a rear-end collision may be rebutted with evidence that the front driver was negligent, the Florida Supreme Court held.

Crystal Charron was injured when the motorcycle on which she was a passenger rear-ended a car that stopped suddenly. Charron sued the driver of the car, but the trial court granted the defendant summary judgment, holding that the plaintiff could not rebut the presumption of negligence that applies to the rear driver in a rear-end collision.

An appellate court reversed, citing evidence that the defendant braked suddenly and for no reason. The court reasoned that because comparative fault principles apply under Florida law, the presumption of the rear-ending motorist’s negligence may be rebutted where there is sufficient evidence of the front driver’s negligence.

Affirming, the state high court noted that Florida case law recognizes a rebuttable presumption that in a rear-end collision, the rear-ending driver was negligent. The presumption bears only on the rear driver’s causal negligence, however, and does not speak to any factual issues regarding the front driver’s negligence. The court emphasized that it had never held that the presumption bars a rear-ending motorist’s claim where there is evidence that the front driver was negligent. Noting that comparative negligence principles apply, the court said the presumption is merely an evidentiary tool that facilitates a particular kind of negligence case by filling an evidentiary void absent a jury question on comparative fault.

Accordingly, where there is evidence that the lead driver was comparatively at fault, the presumption is rebutted, and the disputed issues must go to the jury.

Citation: Birge v. Charron, 2012 WL 5869641 (Fla. Nov. 21, 2012).

Plaintiff counsel: Charles Rickman Stack and Nathan A. Romanic, both of Melbourne, Fla.

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