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Rear Ended Vehicle Usually Wins Liability / Fault Issue

blog-small-imageEvery case has two parts: liability and damages. And, to win your case before a jury, you have to prove both by the greater weight of the evidence. In fact, if you cannot show liability, the jury does not even consider damages. Your Miami Car Accident Lawyer explains:

The practical impact of this is that, if a case is being negotiated before a lawsuit has been filed, an adjuster will look to both parts in order to evaluate it. Likewise, if a case has been filed at the courthouse, the lawyer for the defendant will evaluate both liability and damages in order to report to his client what he, she, or it is facing.

Now, in a car accident case, rear end collisions are usually the fault of the rear-vehicle. In fact, once a case gets to trial, there is what is called a “rebuttable presumption” that the person who did the rear-ending in the car accident is at fault, or wrong. This means that the person who rear-ended you is presumed to be in the wrong. He or she can “rebut” or refute that presumption by showing one of four things. To avoid getting a directed verdict at trial on whose fault the accident was, the defendant would have to show (1) that there was something mechanically wrong with his or her car; (2) that the lead driver made a sudden stop; (3) the lead driver made a sudden lane change; or (4) that the lead driver made an illegal or improper stop. Dept. Highway Safety v. Saleme, 963 So. 2d 969 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2007). With regard to the sudden stop exception, a sudden stop, alone, is insufficient. Clampit v. Spencer, 786 So. 2d 570 (Fla. 2001).  Rather, for this exception to kick in, “the lead driver’s stop must occur “at a time and place where it could not reasonably be expected by the following driver”. Pierce v. Progressive, 582 So. 2d 712 (Fla. 5th DCA 1991).

Therefore, if you were injured in a rear-end accident in Miami, Broward, or Palm Beach and your case goes to trial, the driver who rear-ended you will have to show that one of the above four exceptions happened to avoid being 100% liable. In fact, if the person who hit you cannot show any of the above four exceptions, then the Judge, under the law, should direct a verdict in your favor on the issue of whose fault the accident was.

On March 9, 2012, the Fifth District Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s failure to enter a directed verdict against the rear-vehicle. This was in the case of Douglas-Siebert v. Riccucci and Tarmac, 37 Fla. L. Weekly D600a. In that case, the accident happened on U.S. 1. The Plaintiff was driving South.  In front of her was an SUV.  Behind her was Riccucci. The Plaintiff was following an SUV.  Suddenly, a car pulled out in front of the SUV. The SUV slowed down and did not hit the car that pulled out in front of the SUV. And the Plaintiff slowed down in time and did not hit the SUV. And, the Plaintiff was still at a stop when Riccucci rear-ended her.

At trial, the trial judge did not grant a directed finding to the Plaintiff. And the Jury actually entered a verdict against the Plaintiff.  But the Plaintiff appealed. And the appellate court cited the above law and noted that, in Clampit, the supreme court explained that “[u]nfortunately, accidents on the roadway ahead are a routine hazard faced by the driving public. Such accidents are encountered far too frequently and are to be reasonably expected. Each driver is charged under the law with remaining alert and following the vehicle in front of him or her at a safe distance. In effect, the law requires all drivers to push ahead of themselves an imaginary clear stopping distance or assured stopping space or adequate zone within which the driven vehicle can come to a stop.” Clampit and Lynch v. Tennyson, 443 So. 2d 1017 (Fla. 5th DCA 1983).

In Douglas-Seibert, the 5th District Court of Appeals looked at the ruling de novo. In taking a new look at it and analyzing the facts and law, they ruled that the trial court should have granted a directed verdict to Douglas-Seibert. For that reason, they gave her a new trial and ordered that the Defendant have directed verdict entered against him on liability.  That is, the appellate court ruled that the trial court was wrong and that the case go back to the trial court with the Plaintiff having won on the issue of whose fault the accident was.

If you have been rear-ended, it is not uncommon for the person who rear-ended you to try to argue that you stopped suddenly and that the accident was not his or her fault. Or, they may argue that you made an improper lane change, or that something was wrong with his or her car. But, as you can see above, in the end, the deck is stacked against a person who rear-ends another person. Much of the time, even the best excuses won’t get the rear-vehicle out of being liable.

Rest assured, our Miami Car Accident Attorneys are aware of the above law and other related laws that can affect your case. This concept is important not just at trial.  But it comes up often in negotiating cases that settle before trial or a lawsuit is even filed. If you were rear-ended in Miami, Broward, or Palm Beach, call us at 305-285-1115. Or email us at jonahwolfson@wolfsonlawfirm.com.

 

 

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3 responses to “Rear Ended Vehicle Usually Wins Liability / Fault Issue”

  1. MIMI VACHER says:

    I WAS A PASS. IN CAR C WHICH KEPT A SAFETY CUSHION BEHIND CAR A (AN SUV) WHEN CAR B SUDDENLY JUMPED INTO THE SAFETY CUSHION (APPX 2-CAR DISTANCE) WITHOUT SIGNALING; CAR B REAR-ENDED THE SUV WHO HAD BRAKED FOR TRAFFIC (THE OVERALL SPEED WAS 25MPH, WELL BELOW POSTED)….. CAR C HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO REAR-END CAR B SINCE THE SAFETY ZONE HAD BEEN REMOVED BY HIS NEGLIGENT AND RECKLESS LANE CHANGE. CAR B WAS CITED BY THE POLICE FOR CAUSING THE ACCIDENT YET HIS INSURANCE IS STILL RESISTING ANY SETTLEMENT STATING CAR C WAS AT FAULT. (FYI: I WAS INJURED). DOES THIS FALL UNDER THE RULE OF LIABILITY EXCEPTION FOR CAR C?

  2. Jonah Wolfson, Esq. says:

    The law, as set forth above, is that a person who rear ends another person is usually liable. That is, unless he or she can show:

    That “(1) that there was something mechanically wrong with his or her car; (2) that the lead driver made a sudden stop; (3) the lead driver made a sudden lane change; or (4) that the lead driver made an illegal or improper stop.”

    But, read above and see that the sudden stop exception wouldn’t apply if the accident was in an area where stop and go traffic was the norm. As set forth above, “[u]nfortunately, accidents on the roadway ahead are a routine hazard faced by the driving public. Such accidents are encountered far too frequently and are to be reasonably expected. Each driver is charged under the law with remaining alert and following the vehicle in front of him or her at a safe distance. In effect, the law requires all drivers to push ahead of themselves an imaginary clear stopping distance or assured stopping space or adequate zone within which the driven vehicle can come to a stop.” Clampit and Lynch v. Tennyson, 443 So. 2d 1017 (Fla. 5th DCA 1983).

  3. Marsha Kravitz says:

    I live in Aventura. I was at a light in front of the shopping mall. I was stopped. And someone smashed into me and hit me from behind. They rear ended me. It was a big collision. The crash made me fly forward then back. But the guy who hit me tried to say I stopped short. Can he get out of being responsible for the accident and say it wasn’t his fault and he wasn’t liable because of that? I mean, what does the word liabilty mean exactly and can someone or their insurance company escape having to pay because they say the other person stopped short?