TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – Two rulings by the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday could give a legal boost to drivers who slam into the back side of vehicles.
Faced with conflicting lower-court decisions, the court’s cases center, at least in part, on a longstanding legal presumption that rear drivers are negligent in vehicle collisions.
However, the justices ruled that the presumption can be rebutted “by the production of evidence from which a jury could conclude that the front driver was negligent in the operation of his or her vehicle.”
The court ruled in cases from Seminole and Palm Beach counties.
The Seminole County case, for example, stemmed from a 2007 accident in which Crystal Charron was a passenger on a motorcycle that flipped when its driver tried to avoid hitting the rear end of a car driven by Warren Birge. A circuit court sided with Birge in a resulting lawsuit, but the 5th District Court of Appeal reversed that decision because it said a jury could have found that Birge was negligent.
The Supreme Court opinion said Birge was driving 35 mph and slammed on his brakes “for no objective reason,” surprising other people on the road.
“Significantly, this court has never held that the rear-end presumption bars a claim for damages of a rear driver or others in the rearward zone of danger where there is evidence from which a jury could conclude that the front driver defendant was negligent and comparatively at fault in causing the collision,” said the opinion, which was written by Justice Jorge Labarga.
The other justices concurred in the decision, though Justice James E.C. Perry was recused.