Florida Supreme Court takes a new look at rear-end crashes

For the last 50 years or so, crashing into the back of another car was automatically your fault in the eyes of Florida law. It didn’t matter if the driver in front stopped short or did something else, the trailing motorist got the blame for failing to leave enough room or brake fast enough. But earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court turned things around a bit when it ruled a lower court erred in the case of a three-vehicle pileup. What happened was, one vehicle was stopped just over the top of a hill. A second motorist, allegedly texting while driving, failed to follow the law requiring drivers to slow down when cresting a hill. Driver two rear-ended driver one. Then, driver three came over the hill but there wasn’t enough time to stop before smacking the back end of car number two. Following the law, driver three was blamed for the entire crash. The Supreme Court decided driver three should have been able to present evidence showing the second driver actually caused the wreck.

The case got to court because driver two sued for injuries, and the blame and the responsibility fell on driver three. What has lawyers and insurance companies excited is, the Supreme Court’s action could make it easier to split the blame in future civil trials. Insurance companies could use the case as grounds for refusing to pay 100 percent of a claim, arguing that the responsibility should be shared.

The origin of placing the blame for rear-impact crashes on the following driver is a case from 1958. In civil trial, the plaintiff has to prove negligence. The District Court agreed that is indeed what the law requires, but wondered how a forward-facing driver who is bashed from behind can see what happened in enough detail to make a case. The court’s decision, and the standard ever since, was the striking driver is always at fault no matter what. A word of caution: The Supreme Court ruling is narrow and it does not affect the law as it now stands. So drive carefully.

Source: Sun Sentinel, “Drivers in rear-end crash may not be at fault,” Ben Wolford, Nov. 23, 2012