Rebutting the Presumption of Negligence on Rear-End Collisions
If you drive on I-95 or the Palmetto expressway in and around Miami there is a chance you have been involved in or witnessed a rear end collision. Rear End collisions are a daily occurrence. It is well-established that a Rear end collision creates a rebuttable presumption that the rear driver was negligent. However, unbeknown to most, is that because this is a rebuttable presumption, the actor who was responsible for rear-ending the other vehicle has the ability to come forward with evidence or some explanation that fairly and reasonably tends to show that the presumption is misplaced or that the real fact is not as presumed.
In its most recent opinion concerning rear-end collisions, the Fifth Circuit laid out the 4 generally recognized situations to which an individual can rebut their presumption of negligence: (1) a mechanical failure in the rear driver’s vehicle; (2) the lead driver’s sudden stop; (3) the lead driver’s sudden lane change; and (4) the lead driver’s illegal or improper stop.
The case the Fifth Circuit decided, focused on the second generally recognized situation, the lead driver’s sudden stop. Courts have long recognized that a sudden or abrupt stop, without more, will not rebut the presumption of the rear driver’s negligence. Therefore, in order to satisfy this rebuttal situation, the rear driver must show that the stop was not expected and, in a place, not reasonably expected. In the Fifth Circuit’s decision they determined that the lead driver’s sudden or abrupt stop was in a busy traffic intersection. Because it should be expected that sudden stops are a product of a busy intersection, the rear driver’s presumption of negligence was not adequately rebutted. Likewise, a stop on I-95 in number to number traffic is neither sudden nor unexpected. Conversely, a stop in fast moving traffic on an empty highway at 4:00 a.m. could be viewed as sudden and unexpected.
Moving forward, when involved in an accident that concerns a rear-end collision, be sure to consider the four generally recognized situations to which the rear driver can rebut their presumption of negligence.