The most common kinds of car accidents in Florida are rear-end collisions. Anyone who spends a lot of time in traffic has either had or almost been involved in a rear-ender. I am a Miami car accident lawyer and have over 20 years of experience in helping people who have been involved in a rear-end accident.
Rear-end traffic accidents occur when one vehicle hits another directly from behind. Most commonly, these occur when a car or truck is stopped at an intersection, stop sign, or in traffic, and the following vehicle does not have enough time to brake, colliding with the first. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), a rear-end collisions occurs every 8 seconds. In fact, every year there are more than 2.5 million rear end accidents resulting in 40,000 fatalities.
When both vehicles are about the same size and weight, the amount of property damage is usually the same. However, if one of the vehicles is much larger than the other, the smaller and lighter vehicle will sustain more damage subjecting the occupants to more serious injuries.
Frequently, rear-end collisions happen without any notice to the front vehicle. These types of sudden impact give the occupants little to no time to brace themselves. When occupants are turned or reaching for something and not seated directly facing forward, they can be very seriously hurt. Most seat belts are designed to restrain passengers from rear-end impacts while facing directly forward facing.
People who get injured in a rear-end car accident in Florida will now face a more difficult legal battle to prove who is at fault. For more than 50 years, Florida courts have relied upon the case of Bellere v. Madsen, which held that defendants who run into the rear-end of a plaintiff’s car while stopped for a traffic light or at an intersection were “presumptively” responsible for causing the accident. The Bellere case created the legal concept of the “rear-end presumption.” The reason for the presumption was created was because of the assumed lack of knowledge as to how or why the accident occurred.
The Bellere case gave front car drivers a significant legal advantage with the presumption. However, over the years the presumption began to vanish, as courts recognized that evidence can be produced where a jury could conclude that the rear-driver was not the sole cause of the collision. The courts have used the presumption as an evidentiary tool in trials to facilitate the admission of a certain types of evidence of negligence and by filling a void where there is “relevant jury question on the issue of liability and causation.”
On November 21, 2012, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in the case of Birge v. Charron that Florida’s long standing presumption of negligence on the part of the rear driver can now be rebutted by evidence that the front driver in a rear-end collision was negligent and at fault in bringing about the accident. Now when evidence exists that rebuts the presumption, the issue of who is at fault is submitted to the jury. This ruling reduces the presumption to a mere legal inference which a jury can consider or reject, when finding negligence on the part of the rear-end driver.
This case also now expands the rear-end presumption doctrine in cases to other injured parties, where there is an absence of evidence that anyone other than the rear-end driver is at fault to claims made by the drivers or passengers in either vehicle. I believe that juries should be provided with all relevant evidence of how a car accident occurs and decide the case on the merits. Some truck accident attorneys in Florida think that this ruling will make it more difficult to win cases against the rear vehicle. I disagree, especially in cases that have evidence that the front car or truck made a sudden and unexpected stop, causing the collision. Injured drivers and passenger can now provide the jury with a strong argument that will overcome the rear-end presumption.