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Rear-end Collision Rule: Then and Now

During our decades of practice, our injury team has obtained compensation on behalf of numerous victims of rear-end crashes, and in doing so, we have taken note of several areas of inquiry often shared by victims. For example, the meaning, effect, and/or application of the term ‘rebuttable presumption,’ is a concept that clients commonly inquire about following a rear-end collision. As a preliminary consideration, it is important to know that the term, in isolation, can apply not only in auto negligence cases, but also in a variety of other legal settings, such as with domestic violence in family law matters.

Defined broadly, Black’s Law Dictionary  provides that a rebuttable presumption is:

“a term for an assumption that appears on the surface to be conclusive but can be overcome by the presentation of contrary evidence.”

In applying the concept to negligence, in claims brought by a lead vehicle in a rear-end car accident, the presumption will generally arise that the negligence of the rear vehicle was the sole and proximate cause of the collision, unless and until evidence is presented to the contrary. The next logical inquiry, then, is what if a rear-end end collision occurred as a result of the negligence of the front driver? Because the answer to this resides in a culmination of the outcomes of fairly recent cases in Florida, it may be useful to provide a bit of historical background on this topic.

For decades, following the ruling in Beller v. Madsen, courts have strictly applied this so-called Rear-end Collision Rule, allowing rebuttal of the presumption in limited scenarios, such as where the front-vehicle abruptly, illegally, or unexpectedly stops or changes lanes. While this rule, which historically was premised upon the notion that the front-driver is less likely to establish factual circumstances as to what has occurred behind them, the effect of its application placed an unfair burden upon front-drivers that had valid defenses, and essentially contradicted the concept of comparative negligence.

However, in 2012, the rulings in two cases, Cevallos v. Rideout, and Charron v. Birge, addressed these issues, perhaps broadening the once narrowly confined interpretation of the Rear-end Collision Rule. As stated in the Rear-end Collision Rule Gets a Tune-up, provided on the Florida Supreme Court’s website,

“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.”

Stated simply, the current trend in Florida regarding rear collisions, is one that now places greater emphasis on principles of comparative negligence, and apportioning damages in accordance with each party’s proportion of fault, as opposed to the more stringent approach that was once widely-accepted in Florida. Although in some cases these recent changes have caused us to do a little more work in obtaining the compensation that a victim deserves, we welcome any legislative changes that are better aligned with notions of fairness and justice.

The laws in Florida are ever-changing. As such, it is imperative that auto collision victims keep this in mind when selecting an attorney. Keeping informed of amendments to existing law or newly implemented laws, as well as any changes or trends in a particular area that may impact the outcome of a case, are important traits to look for in a lawyer, because this often signifies their level of commitment.

However, continuing education, is only one factor to take into consideration. The ability to effectively apply legal concepts and principles, whether new or old, is a talent that is best achieved through actual and repeated practice experience. The Gainesville Accident & Injury Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC possess the knowledge and experience that clients look for.

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