In Worley v. State Farm, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida explains two important concepts in Florida car accident cases: the presumption of negligence in rear end collisions and the principle of comparative negligence.
Ms. Worley was injured in a September 2010 accident when a car driven by an uninsured driver rear ended her vehicle. She claimed that she was stopped at a yield sign when the other driver, Mr. Thomas, slammed into her minivan. Mr. Thomas later testified, however, that Worley had begun to proceed through the intersection and make a right turn when she suddenly stopped for no reason, causing the crash. There were no other cars or pedestrians present who would have made it necessary for Worley to stop at the time, according to Thomas.
Worley later sought payment from State Farm, her auto insurance carrier, for combined/stacked uninsured motorist coverage for bodily injury in the amount of $350,000.00. The company declined, finding that Worley was at least partly responsible for the accident. She sued in federal district court, adding a claim for loss of consortium by her husband. Worley later moved for summary judgment, arguing that she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Florida law presumes that the driver of a trailing car in a rear end accident is responsible for the crash.
The District Court disagreed. The court acknowledged the presumption of negligence by a rear driver in a rear end accident, but explained that this presumption is “rebuttable.” Moreover, under the comparative negligence system in place in the Sunshine State, a person who is injured partly due to his or her own negligence can hold another party liable only to the extent of his or her proportionate responsibility. Here, Thomas testified that Worley was at least partly responsible for the accident because she stopped in the middle of the intersection. The court said this was sufficient to create a fact issue precluding summary judgment on the comparative negligence issue.
The court relied on the Florida Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Eppler v. Tarmac America. In that case, the middle driver in a three-car accident claimed that she was struck by the rear driver before she began moving when a traffic light turned green. The rear driver testified, however, that all of the cars had started moving and that the middle driver then caused the accident by stopping suddenly. The state’s high court held that the dispute was enough to rebut the presumption of the rear driver’s negligence and left it for a jury to decide liability. Reaching the same conclusion in the present case, the District Court said it found the Eppler ruling “very persuasive” and denied Worley’s motion for summary judgment.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, contact the South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Ft. Lauderdale, Hialeah and Coral Springs. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or fill out and submit an online Contact Us form to schedule a free consultation.
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