The Presumption of Negligence in a Multi-Car Rear End Accident – Shirey v. State Farm

In Shirey v. State Farm, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal explains the presumption of negligence in a multi-car rear end accident.

After Luanna Shirey was injured in a four-car accident, she and her husband filed suit against the two drivers ahead of her, alleging that they were negligent. The accident occurred when the driver of the lead car (vehicle 1), who was not identified, slowed to turn right into a local business. The second vehicle (vehicle 2), driven by Normal Purcell, and the third vehicle (vehicle 3), driven by William Sabinson, slowed in response. Ms. Shirley’s vehicle, the fourth and last, rear-ended Sabinson’s car. The trial court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the accident was caused by Shirey’s negligence.

On appeal, the Fourth District upheld the ruling. The court ruled that the other drivers were entitled to a presumption that Shirey, as the rear driver in the accident, was negligent.

Florida law generally presumes that, in a rear-end collision, the rear driver’s actions are the sole proximate cause of the accident and any resulting injuries. In Cevallos v. Rideout, however, the Fourth District held that the presumption can be overcome by establishing that the lead-driver stopped abruptly and arbitrarily.

In this case, the court concluded that there was no evidence showing that either Purcell or Sabinson stopped abruptly and arbitrarily. Both testified at deposition that they stopped in response to vehicle 1 and that their cars did not collide until Shirey’s car slammed into Sabinson’s. Furthermore, a traffic reconstruction expert testified that although vehicle 1 may have turned abruptly, Purcell and Sabinson “maintained the safe operation of their respective vehicles in response to the phantom vehicle’s right-hand turn,” according to the court.

To the extent that the presumption was not applicable, the court further ruled, Plaintiffs nevertheless failed to present any evidence of negligence on the part of either Purcell or Sabinson. “[B]ut for Luanna Shirey’s own negligence in failing to maintain a safe distance from the vehicles in front of her and apply the appropriate braking under the circumstances, no accident would have occurred,” the court ruled.

Rear-end accidents are among the most common types of automobile collisions in the United States. They often occur as a result of careless, inattentive or distracted driving. As this case makes clear, Florida law presumes that it is every driver’s duty to not hit the car in front of him or her. As a result, the car that actually does the “rear-ending” is usually found to be at fault in a rear-end accident. That said, there are some exceptions to this rule.

The South Florida rear end accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine commonly represent individuals throughout the area, including in Boca Raton, Pompano Beach and Hialeah, who were injured in rear-end and other auto accidents. We commonly represent individuals who were injured in collisions and we persevere to get the best possible results for our clients. For a free consultation, call Anidjar & Levine’s Fort Lauderdale office today at 800-747-3733.

Related blog posts:

Florida Court Reverses Ruling in Tractor-Trailer Rear End Accident – Miller v. Perez

Florida Court Limits Medical Examiner Testimony in Rear End Car Accident Case – Cascanet v. Allen

Court: Paralyzed Car Accident Plaintiff Not Injured By Alleged Failure to Wear Seatbelt – Henry v. Hoelke