Traditionally, Florida law placed all responsibility for rear-end collisions on last-place drivers. The state Supreme Court recently shook up the blame equation by overturning a West Palm Beach lower court ruling that would have continued to place the sole proximate cause of rear-end car accidents on second drivers.
The justices were reviewing a case from the 4th District Court of Appeal in which, oddly enough, the plaintiff was the third driver in a 2005 rear-end collision. The high court felt the court should not have presumed the plaintiff was negligent just because her vehicle was the last one in the crash.
In the past, the law favored drivers who were struck by other vehicles in rear-end collisions. Courts assumed that second drivers should be faulted automatically for failing to stop or avoid an accident.
The case involved a three-car accident, where the plaintiff's vehicle struck a car on a hilltop. The vehicle that was hit had already plowed into a stopped car, allegedly because the second driver was speeding and using a cellphone.
Legal counsel argued that the third driver broke no traffic rules as she approached the crest of the hill and had no opportunity to avoid a pileup.
The third driver sought damages in a civil lawsuit for injuries she received in the collision. The plaintiff's attorney said the middle driver was negligent and liable.
Juries in Florida civil courts do not have to place 100 percent of the blame on a single party. Comparative negligence allows juries to assign an equal, or unequal, percentage of fault to as many defendants as necessary.
A state high court ruling in 2000 suggested that second drivers could not be held responsible for accidents caused by a first driver's unpredictable sudden stop. The new ruling seems to encourage courts to investigate reasons for a crash without placing automatic blame on the final driver in a pileup.
Source: articles.sun-sentinel.com, "Florida Supreme Court: Drivers in rear-end crash may not be at fault," Ben Wolford, Nov. 23, 2012