Northwest Florida Daily News reports that a three-car collision on the Mid-Bay Bridge on Monday night sent one driver to a local hospital. The accident happened about 9:30 p.m. when a car driven by 25-year-old male from Niceville failed to stop for slower traffic. He was driving north on the bridge when he struck a Mercedes driven by a 44-year-old male from Niceville, whose car then hit a Toyota driven by 25-year-old male from Niceville. The 25 year-old who caused the collision had minor injuries but was not taken to the hospital. The male driving the Mercedes whose vehicle was sandwiched between the two, was taken to Twin Cities Hospital with serious injuries. The 25 year-old male was charged with careless driving.
Florida’s Rear-end Collision Rule was created back in 1959 in Bellere v. Madsen, 114 So.2d 619 (Fla.1959). The Rule states that in a rear-end automobile collision a presumption arises that the driver of the rear vehicle was in the wrong and his error was the cause of the collision. When applied correctly, It lessens the burden borne by a plaintiff to prove two of the requisite elements of negligence-breach of the duty of care and causation. The Rule acknowledges that it is plainly difficult for a front-facing driver to establish what has happened behind him/her.
The Rear-End Collision Rule is a rebuttable presumption. Over the years, the District Courts of Appeals and the Florida Supreme Court’s decisions have narrowly confined the rebuttal channels to: 1) an abrupt and arbitrary stop in a place where it could not reasonably be expected or an unexpected change of lanes; 2) a mechanical failure, i.e., sudden brake failure, that causes the rear driver to collide with the lead driver; or 3) the lead vehicle is illegally and, therefore, unexpectedly stopped.
Approximately three years ago, the Florida Supreme Court stepped in and clarified the law so there would be no more confusion. In one case, the Court suggested that if the rear-driver must show that he/she is totally free from fault, then the neither the Court, nor the jury, gets the opportunity to compare the relative percentages of fault of all those actors involved in the collision. The Court makes it clear that the Rear-End Collision Rule was never meant to affect or supersede substantive law, and so the comparative negligence principles enunciated in Section 768.81(1)-(5), Florida Statutes, should ultimately inform its application. The Rear-end Collision Rule is only to be applied where there is an absence of a jury question on the issue of comparative fault. In other words, if there is evidence that a jury could find that the front driver was also at fault, and his/her fault contributed to the collision, the presumption disappears.
Taken together, the Court announced where evidence is produced from which a jury could conclude that the front driver in a rear-end collision was negligent and comparatively at fault in bringing about the collision, the presumption specified in the Rule is erased.
So what does that mean for us? Drivers who rear-end other vehicles may have a better chance of sharing the blame.