In previous posts, we’ve discussed the presumption of negligence in rear end car accident cases, in which the rear driver is typically considered liable for the accident. We’ve also talked about how the presumption can be overcome. In its recent ruling in Douglas-Seibert v. Riccucci, however, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal explains that rebutting the presumption is an uphill climb.
Dianna Douglas-Seibert was injured in a Florida car accident when the vehicle she was driving was rear-ended by a cement truck driven by Louis Riccucci. The vehicles – Douglas-Seibert’s car was trailing an SUV and the cement truck was behind Douglas-Seibert – were traveling in the far left lane when another car entered the road on the right side and crossed three lanes of traffic before turning left. The SUV braked to avoid hitting the car, as did Douglas-Seibert. The SUV began moving forward once the other car cleared, but Douglas-Seibert did not. She remained stopped when the cement truck rear-ended her car.
Douglas-Seibert sued Riccucci and his employer, Tarmac. The matter proceeded to trial, at the close of which Douglas-Seibert moved for a directed verdict, citing the rear end negligence presumption. She also argued that there was no evidence to show that she was partially at fault for the accident. The trial court denied the motion with respect to Riccucci’s negligence and granted it regarding Douglas-Seibert’s comparative negligence. A jury later found that the defendants were not liable for the accident.
On appeal, the Fifth District reversed the trial court’s decision, finding that Riccucci did not present enough evidence to rebut the negligence presumption.
The court explained that a rear driver can overcome the presumption based on four defenses: mechanical failure; the lead driver’s unexpected, sudden stop; a sudden lane change by the lead driver; and an illegal or improper stop by the lead driver. Riccucci argued that Douglas-Siebert’s stop and failure to start driving again after the SUV moved forward constituted either a sudden or illegal or improper stop. Yet, according to the court, evidence of a sudden stop alone is not enough to rebut the presumption because drivers are expected to anticipate these stops. Citing the Florida Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in Clampitt v. D.J. Spencer Sales, the court said that the rear driver has the power to control following distance, and therefore should be responsible for anticipating some stops.
Nor did Riccucci show that Douglas-Siebert’s failure to restart was illegal or improper, the court ruled. “The fact that the SUV’s driver realized that he or she could safely continue on does not mean that Douglas-Seibert had a duty to follow within the time interval involved,” the court said.
Representing drivers and passengers throughout the region, including in Ft. Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, and Boca Raton, the South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have the experience and diligence necessary to assist clients who have been injured in any type of car accident, including rear end crashes. Our attorneys work closely with each and every client in order to help achieve the best legal result.
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