Front Drivers Not Always Blameless in Rear-End Accidents

Driving laws in Florida require that motorists leave a safe following distance between their own car and the vehicle that is in front of them. The definition of a “safe” distance can vary since more space should be left when it is raining or when bad weather makes it difficult to see and react to the car in front. In general, however, drivers should leave about a three-to-four second following distance between their own vehicle and the car that is in front of them.

Because rear drivers are supposed to leave this space, it has long been presumed that the driver in the rear car is responsible for rear end front drivercrashes. After all, even if the driver in the front car stops short, a rear driver with enough distance between the two cars should still be able to react in time to stop. This presumption makes it difficult for a driver injured in the rear vehicle in a rear-end crash to take legal action to recover compensation. Though coverage from his or her own insurer is often possible.

A Fourth District Court of Appeals case recently evaluated the impact of the presumption that the driver in the rear is to blame and the court held that it was not possible to use the negligence of the front driver to rebut the presumption that it was the rear driver who was at fault for the crash.The Supreme Court, however, disagreed and changed this rule in a case called Birge v. Charron.  An experienced rear-end accident lawyer in West Palm Beach will be in the best position to review your case. Birge v. Charron provided important protections for drivers in the rear but also created a much more complex question in rear-end accident cases regarding who is to blame for the collision.

Drivers in the Front Can Sometimes Be Liable

In Birge v. Charron, the Supreme Court began its opinion with a discussion of comparative negligence rules. Comparative negligence replaced the contributory negligence system in Florida in 1973.

  • A contributory negligence system means that a plaintiff who was partly at fault for his or her own injuries wasn’t allowed to obtain any compensation for losses and damage.
  • The comparative negligence system now allows a plaintiff to recover partial compensation for injuries even if he made some mistakes. A defendant who was mostly liable for the accident would thus have to pay damages even if a plaintiff was a little bit negligent too.

Under Florida’s comparative negligence rules, the Supreme Court determined that a driver in the front in a rear end crash could sometimes be at least partially liable for his behavior in causing the collision. The key question is the extent to which the drivers are negligent.  As such, the presumption that exists in the law that the driver in the rear is negligence is a “vanishing presumption” and a defendant can overcome it to show that the front driver was at least a little to blame or was wholly to blame.

Because comparative negligence rules apply in all rear-end accident cases, a driver involved in a rear-end crash can thus sue the lead driver and may be able to obtain compensation from the driver in the front vehicle under Florida’s comparative negligence rules under certain circumstances. This decision was an important one that protects the rights of drivers who may become involved in rear-end collisions because a motorist does something dangerous like stopping short in front of them or cutting them off.   Rear-end accident cases are complicated under the comparative fault rules and the Birge ruling, and it is important to have an experienced attorney representing you.

Contact a personal injury lawyer in West Palm Beach today. Call David J. Glatthorn at 800-990-9394 for a free case review.


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