It's one of the most common forms of automobile accidents – one driver either slows or stops completely, and the driver behind the first fails to do the same, causing a rear-end collision. Sometimes these accidents cause only minor damages to one or both cars, other times they cause injury or even death. Florida courts recognize that these accidents are most commonly the fault of the second driver, but also that exceptions do exist. Our job as a Panama City car accident law firm is to help apply the principles of Florida law to the facts of a specific case in order to help our clients obtain vital money damages.
The News Herald covered a Monday morning accident that injured 5 people, involved 4 vehicles and stemmed from an initial rear-end crash. 2 vehicles, one driven by 65-year-old Robert Teitelbaum of Freeport and the second by 24-year-old Kimberly Ostenburg of Fort Walton Beach, were stopped and waiting to turn left off of U.S. 331 near Sparkleberry Lane. Rosemerry Lane, a 46-year-old from Freeport, approached but did not stop, colliding with the rear of the second car. The impact pushed Ostenburg's vehicle into the highway's northbound lane where it hit a fourth car, driven by Elizabeth Ford (age 29 of Harvey, Louisiana).
Ostenburg suffered the most severe injuries, and responders flew her to Bay Medical Center in critical condition. Sara Thurston, her passenger, suffered minor injuries and was transported to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast. The same hospital also treated minor injuries incurred by Ford and her passenger, Elizabeth Hill. Lane also suffered minor injuries and received treatment at Walton County hospital. Police had not filed charges as of the Herald's inquiry on Monday evening.
In November 2012, the Supreme Court of Florida handed down a decision in Cevallos v. Rideout, a ruling that actually addressed 2 cases and focused on rear-end collisions. Specifically, the court looked at a judicially-developed presumption that the rear driver in a rear-end collision was negligent. The lower court in Cevallos held that this presumption could not be overcome by evidence that the forward driver was negligent and that the rear driver could not file a damages claim without proving a complete lack of negligence on his/her own part.
While also ruling in another case (Birge v. Charron), the state Supreme Court reversed these holdings. Ultimately, the Court found that Florida's rule of comparative negligence still applies in rear-end collisions. Thus, if evidence shows that the front driver's negligence caused a rear-end crash, or alternatively, that the rear driver's negligence was not the only cause of the collision, the presumption that the negligence of the second driver was the sole proximate cause of a rear-end accident has been rebutted. This means the jury can then evaluate the degree of fault attributable to both the front and rear driver.
Florida courts will likely continue to use the presumption that the negligence of the rear driver caused a rear-end collision. This presumption is helpful since it can be difficult for a forward driver to pinpoint the factors that caused a rear-end accident (i.e. it's harder to know if a driver behind you was on a cell phone, you might be able to see that the other driver was on the phone in a side-impact crash). However, the 2012 Florida Supreme Court decision makes clear that this is a rebuttable presumption, a starting point that can be overcome by evidence.
This case is a reminder that no case is a guarantee and injured victims should always seek legal help. Attorney Pittman is an experienced Panama City personal injury attorney who understands the complexities of Florida injury law. Whether you were the front driver or the rear driver, if you suffered injury in a rear-end collision that was not your fault, we can help. Our team will gather evidence, consult experts if needed (ex. accident reconstruction experts to show how the crash occurred and/or medical experts to discuss the extent of your injuries), and apply Florida law to the facts in order to prove that you are owed money damages.