On November 21, the Supreme Court of Florida made an impactful decision regarding the interaction between Florida’s comparative negligence tort recovery system and the rebuttable presumption imposed in rear-end motor vehicle collisions. The Supreme Court reversed Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals ruling that the presumption of negligence attached to the rear-end driver of a rear-end collision cannot be rebutted by the production of evidence of negligence on the part of the front driver.
The accident leading to the claim in Cevallos v. Rideout involved an automobile collision occurring on the downhill slope of an overpass. The defendant in this case, Kerri Anne Rideout, was talking on her cell phone while driving her vehicle 45 miles per hour over a hill, in moderate to heavy traffic, when she was required to slam on her breaks in order to avoid a disabled vehicle. As a result of slamming on her breaks so abruptly, the Plaintiff, Maria Cevallos ran into the back of Ms. Rideout’s car despite slowing her car down to a speed of only 35 miles per hour as she approached the hill. In addition, Ms. Cevallos remained four car lengths behind Ms. Rideout’s car at all times up until the collision.
In Florida, there is a rebuttable presumption that the negligence of the rear driver in a rear-end collision is the sole proximate cause of the accident. However, the rear-end driver can overcome this presumption by showing the lead car driver stopped abruptly or arbitrarily.
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, in reasoning their decision, held that evidence must show a rear-driver Plaintiff (as Ms. Cevallos was) cannot reasonably have been expected to anticipate the lead-driver’s sudden stop. However, the court went on to say the rear-driver Plaintiff cannot rely on the mere fact the lead-driver Defendant ran into a preceding vehicle without “material evidence of negligence” on the part of the lead-driver Defendant in stopping. This holding essentially means a rear-driver Plaintiff must show the lead-driver Defendant’s negligence was the reason for their abrupt stop. The court went on to find Ms. Rideout was not negligent in the operation of her vehicle and granted her motion for a directed verdict.
The Supreme Court of Florida agreed to review this case because it’s decision conflicted with that of a First District Court of Appeal case from 1991. The Supreme Court ultimately reversed the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s ruling finding a jury could have concluded the Defendant, Ms. Rideout, failed to use ordinary care in the operation of her vehicle, and that this failure could have been at least one of the proximate causes of the collision between her vehicle and Ms. Cevallo’s vehicle. In essence, the court was saying the presumed negligence of Ms. Cevallo was not the sole proximate cause of the collision and thus Ms. Rideout’s motion for a directed verdict should not have been granted.
This case illustrates the importance of properly interpreting and applying Florida law with regard to rear-end automobile collisions.
For further information regarding this topic please free to contact the Injury Victim Advocates at Schulman Law Group at 954-349-3300, 1-877-529-0444 or at firstname.lastname@example.org