The law has changed dramatically over the decades when it comes to dealing with car accidents, and it continues to change. Within those changes are subtleties and distinctions that are important to victims of car accidents because of the impact that they ultimately have on the results of any given case. One of the areas of law that has changed and developed over the years is the presumption of negligence in rear-end collisions. As this area has continued to evolve, there are many new rules that have emerged. Below is a brief discussion about the origins of the rule, and where the rule stands today.
Origins of Rear-End Collision Rules
The original rear-end collision rule states that the driver is presumed negligent when he or she runs into a car from behind. That rule was adopted in 1958 by an appeals court, and affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court in 1959. The original case involved a woman who was stopped at a stop sign when she was violently struck from behind and nearly sent through her dash window. At trial the woman presented her case to the jury, while the defendant did not put on any evidence. The jury returned a verdict for the woman, and the defendant appealed. What resulted was the original rear-end collision rule.
What the rule did, in essence, was relieve the plaintiff’s burden of proving that the defendant was negligent. If the plaintiff was rear-ended when stopped, negligence was simply assumed, and the court would direct a jury to return a verdict for the plaintiff. A boon for plaintiffs, it left many defendants unable to ‘defend’ their cases, and forced them to pay without getting a hearing from the jury.
At the time, Florida was a contributory negligence state, meaning that if the plaintiff were at all negligent in a case, they were barred from suing for any recovery. But Florida ceased being a contributory negligence state in 1973. That let lead drivers better defend themselves in rear-end collision cases, but it also left the legal system with questions on how the rear-end collision doctrine would be applied in the future.
Florida Supreme Court Revisits Rear-End Collision Rule
The Florida Supreme Court revisited and revised the rule in the 1997 case of Jefferies v. Amery Leasing, Inc. In that case the Supreme Court announced the new rule as the following:
In rear-end collisions the rear vehicle is still presumed negligent, unless that driver can give a reasonable explanation as to why he was not negligent.
If the explanation is reasonable, then the case will go to the jury on the merits, and the jury will decide liability.
Since Florida is now a comparative negligence case, a partly negligent rear driver would not be barred from taking their case to the jury for an apportionment of liability based on the facts.
The practical application of this rule does not completely relieve rear drivers of liability, but it does give them a fighting chance. What it does not do is shield negligent lead drivers from any liability, but allows each side to prove their case fairly.
Panama City Accident and Injury Attorney Can Help You
At The Pittman Firm, car accidents are a big part of what we do. In fact, we are dedicated to representing victims of accidents of all kinds. If you have been injured in an accident in the Panama City area, contact us so we can evaluate your case.