Florida high court decision may change rules for rear-end crashes

The Supreme Court of Florida handed down a decision late in November that may offer relief to some drivers involved in rear-end collisions. Rear-end crashes usually happen when a car is stopped in traffic or at a stop signal, and the driver who hits the stopped car is usually at fault under the law or, at least, in the eyes of the auto insurance company. The theory, of course, is that the driver was following too closely or too quickly; it is possible to stop in time if following at an appropriate distance and at an appropriate rate of speed.

Florida law operates under a "presumption of negligence" in rear-end cases. That is, the driver that hits someone from behind is assumed to be negligent outright and cannot collect damages from the other driver. Both the trial court and the appeals court applied the rule and would not allow the plaintiff to collect. The Supreme Court, however, felt the rule did not quite apply in this situation.

In this accident, the plaintiff ran into a car that had rear-ended the car in front of it. So, car A stopped at a stop light. Car B rear-ended that car, and the plaintiff struck car B from behind -- a classic chain reaction. The plaintiff argued that the driver of car B was on her cellphone and, therefore, was the cause of the plaintiff's accident.

The Supreme Court agreed. The plaintiff was not the "sole proximate cause" of the crash, the court said, because the woman in front of her had been distracted at the time of her own accident.

Florida is one of 14 states that operate under the "pure comparative negligence" theory of fault in auto accidents. That means a plaintiff can collect damages for the percentage of the accident that was not his or her fault. If, then, the driver of car B were found 80 percent negligent and the plaintiff 20 percent negligent, the plaintiff would be able to collect 80 percent of damages.

Source: Online Auto Insurance, "Florida Supreme Court Rules for Rear-Ender in Crash Case," Ben Zitney, Dec. 5, 2012

We help people who have been in motor vehicle accidents like the one discussed above. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Bradenton and Sarasota, Florida, auto accidents page.

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