In a Rear-End Collision, who is at Fault?

You are driving, approaching an intersection where the pedestrian walk signal is coming close to the end of its countdown, so you know the light is likely to soon turn yellow, followed quickly by the inevitable red light. Knowing you are too far away to have any chance of making the light, you slow your car by easing off the accelerator. Sure enough, the light turns yellow when you are well within stopping distance, so you brake and come to a complete stop. Several seconds later, a horn sounds and you are hit from behind with tremendous force, enough to make your airbag deploy and push your car into the intersection and oncoming traffic. Who is at fault for causing the rear-end accident? The car behind you responded to the yellow light by gunning the engine and trying to make the light despite the fact that you, the car in front of him, had come to a complete stop at the intersection. That driver rams the back of your car, totaling your car in the process and giving you a severe case of whiplash. When the police arrive, the other driver insists that he thought you were going to go through the light, that he was just following you at a safe distance the entire time, and that you stopped suddenly without any warning to him whatsoever. He insists to the police that it was all your fault for the rear-end accident because there was no way he could possibly have known you were going to stop at the intersection. After reviewing the accident scene and talking with you and the witnesses who saw the incident, and despite the other driver’s protests, he is ultimately ticketed for causing the accident and is at fault.

The complaints that the driver who rear-ended you in this scenario was making to police are likely to fall on deaf ears, whether to the police or instead to a jury in a personal injury lawsuit related to such an accident. Florida law recognizes that it is most often the rear driver in a rear-end collision who was at fault by imposing a rebuttable presumption that the rear driver’s negligence caused a rear-end motor vehicle accident. As such, it is very difficult (although not impossible) for the rear driver who hits another car to claim that it was the front driver, the driver that was rear-ended, who caused the accident. 

The Causes of Rear-End Collisions

Particularly given the notorious stop and go traffic in South Florida, in combination with the fact that seemingly no one allows a safe distance between cars when traveling (whether on a surface road or the highway), rear-end accidents are extremely common, which is not surprising for anyone from the area. There are many different causes of rear-end accidents in Florida. Like many other things related to motor vehicle accidents, cell phones are often the culprit when a rear-end collision occurs. Someone may be texting or emailing a friend or a spouse when the traffic signal ahead turns red and the driver does not realize it and smashes into the car in front of him or her. In other cases, a driver may simply be following too closely and, even though he or she is paying attention, the motorist simply cannot stop in time when the driver in front chooses to stop at a yellow light where the motorist in the rear was expecting the front driver to go through the yellow light. 

Florida Law Regarding Fault in Rear-End Collisions

The person who rear-ended you is presumed to be at fault under Florida law unless he or she can show that one of a very limited set of circumstances applies. This is what is known as a rebuttable presumption, meaning that he or she can only blame you, the driver that was rear-ended, if that motorist defeats the rebuttable presumption that he or she was negligent. This rebuttable presumption in a rear-end accident can only be defeated by showing that (1) the rear driver’s vehicle had some sort of mechanical failure, such as a brake failure, (2) the driver in front suddenly stopped in an arbitrary or unexpected place or way, or (3) the driver in front suddenly changed lanes. However, if the rear driver is claiming that (2) occurred, then he or she must also show that the rear driver was truly stopped in a way that could not be expected under any normal circumstances. After all, drivers stop suddenly at intersections all the time for a variety of different reasons, whether it’s because a pedestrian was crossing the road against the light, a dog or other animal darted across the road, or because someone else ran a red light. It also is important to keep in mind that, not only is there a rebuttable presumption that the rear driver in a rear-end collision was at fault, but that, because Florida is a comparative negligence jurisdiction, the jury can always apportion some amount of fault to the driver that rear-ended you even if that driver is able to rebut the presumption of negligence in connection with an accident in which you were injured. Therefore, even if the other driver were able to rebut the presumption of negligence, you would still be able to recover for your injuries from the driver that rear-ended you if the jury finds even 1% of negligence on the rear driver’s part in causing the accident. 

Contact Schwed Adams & McGinley

At Schwed, Adams & McGinley, our experienced personal injury attorneys have more than 150 years of experience representing the victims of motor vehicle accidents and other personal injury scenarios. We have represented many clients who were the victim of someone else’s negligence in failing to maintain a safe following distance and rear-ending one of our clients. If you have been rear-ended and injured due to someone else’s negligence in Florida, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Schwed, Adams & McGinley, P.A. today at 877-694-6079 or contact@schwedlawfirm.com for a free consultation.