Under certain circumstances, state law presumes that a Florida rear end auto accident is caused by the rear driver in the accident. In Sorel v. Koonce, the First District Court of Appeal explains how the presumption works and when it should be applied.
Cindy Sorel was injured when in a rear end accident when her car was hit from behind by a Comcast van driven by Troy Koonce. She filed a negligence action against both Koonce and Comcast, asserting that Koonce was responsible for the accident.
Sorel was seated in the front passenger seat - her husband was driving and their son was seated in the back - when the accident happened. The Sorels' car was the second of three waiting for a green left turn arrow at a traffic light. The Comcast van was directly behind them. Each of the three cars began to move forward when the light turned green. The Sorels testified at trial that, as they were turning, a car ran a red light through the intersection, which caused Mr. Sorel to brake. When he did, the Comcast van collided into the back of the Sorels' vehicle.
The trial court rejected Plaintiff's request for a directed verdict. After a jury found that her injury was not caused by Defendants' negligence, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking a new trial, asserting that the trial court should have entered a verdict in her favor.
"Case law has identified a rebuttable 'presumption of negligence' in favor of the front driver in a rear-end collision," the First District noted in reversing the trial court's decision. Specifically, the presumption is that the rear driver's actions are the sole proximate cause of the accident and any resulting injuries, according to the court. However, the rear driver can overcome the presumption by presenting evidence that "fairly and reasonably tends to show" that it is misplaced in a particular case. While proof that the lead driver made a sudden stop is generally insufficient to rebut the presumption, evidence that the sudden stop was "at a time and place where it could not reasonably be expected by the following driver" will serve as a rebuttal, the court explained.