Posted By Alan Sackrin on October 13, 2015
Last Update: 12/26/16
In South Florida, particularly for drivers traveling the roadways of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, we expect heavy traffic during certain times of the day — when we’re going to and from work, for example. And it’s pretty common for us to see minor fender-benders or even more serious traffic accidents as we drive along highways like I-95 or I-595.
Roadside distractions are just a part of our Florida commute. And it’s tempting to take a look when there has been an accident, right? To slow down and check out what has happened? The thing is, that’s called “rubbernecking” or an “onlooker delay.”
The worst part about doing that, is when a driver takes their eyes off the road in order to check out that nearby traffic accident or roadside distraction, and they themselves become involved in their own car crash caused by their own distracted driving.
Is Rubbernecking A Form of Distracted Driving?
In 2003, a national research study conducted on behalf of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles by Virginia Commonwealth University, using national data, revealed that rubbernecking (”onlooker delay”) was the primary cause of distracted driving in the United States at that time.
The advent of smartphones since 2003 has changed things since then – phones are the major cause of distracted driving now. However, today rubbernecking is still a serious cause of car accidents, particularly rear-end collisions.
Rear-End Collisions in Florida Caused by Distracted Driving: Is Fault Assumed for Rear Driver?
Under Florida law, many assume that the driver in the rear car, the one that collides into the rear of the car in front of him or her, is the one that will be considered legally at fault and responsible for the damages caused in the traffic accident. That’s true in many cases.
However, it is not a guarantee. According to the Florida Supreme Court, the rear-car driver can present evidence that challenges the presumption, to show that he or she isn’t really to blame in the crash. This is true for multi-car pile-ups as well as two-car rear end collisions.
The Landmark Case of Cevallos v. Rideout
In Cevallos v. Rideout, 18 So. 3d 661 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009), a car sat on the side of a freeway overpass and as the driver in one vehicle drove around it, two other cars also maneuvered around it without crashing — but three other cars failed to escape an accident.
These three vehicles collided: the defendant hit a car, the plaintiff hit the defendant, and yet another car hit the plaintiff.
No one argued in court that the accident didn’t happen. What they fought over was how it occurred: the plaintiff argued that the defendant rear-ended someone first, and she wasn’t able to stop in time to avoid colliding with the defendant’s car.
The defendant claimed that she was hit by the plaintiff first, and the force of that rear-end collision pushed her into the car in front of her. It wasn’t her fault, it was the plaintiff.
The case did not settle. It went to trial in a Florida district court; it was appealed to a Florida circuit court of appeals; and that decision was appealed to the highest state court, the Florida Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court considered all the evidence “de novo,” which means they looked at all the evidence that had been presented at trial independently of the trial court judge’s interpretation of the facts.
Pointing out that “there is a rebuttable presumption that the negligence of the rear driver in a rear-end collision was the sole proximate cause of the accident,” the Justices confirmed that the rear-driver defendant can still present evidence that will “overcome the presumption” if they can show facts that the driver in the lead car had stopped “abruptly and arbitrarily.”
If the rear-driver can prove that the lead car stopped “abruptly and arbitrarily,” then the driver of the front car has to present evidence to counter or he will will held responsible for the crash.
That driver, the one usually assumed to be at fault in the rear-end crash, has to prove that the driver of the other car, the one he rear-ended, stopped “abruptly and arbitrarily” and in doing so, caused the rear-end collision. Or, as the opinion explains, “… the evidence must establish that the driver cannot reasonably have been expected to anticipate the other driver’s sudden stop.“
The Public Policy Behind Road Distractions and Rear-End Collision Accident Law in Florida
Why is this the law? Florida courts assume that drivers know how dangerous it can be to drive along our roadways, and it is the public policy of this state to make it the duty of all drivers to “… push ahead of themselves an imaginary clear stopping distance or assured stopping space or adequate zone within which the driven vehicle can come to a stop.” Clampitt v. D.J. Spencer Sales, 786 So.2d 570 (Fla.2001).
Drivers, especially those who encounter distractions along the roadside, are assumed to know that they need to be particularly vigilant in these situations, giving even more distance between their car and the car ahead of them. Clampitt.
So, faced with a roadside distraction, Florida drivers need to be especially wary of the drivers in the vehicles surrounding them. How? By slowing down, increasing the space between cars, etc.
What Should You Do?
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed by a rear end collision, is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover.
Their experience in having been part of accident investigations in the past, including working with experts in automobile accident reconstruction, can be invaluable in helping to establish your right to damages and convincing an adjuster of this fact (by knowing how to address or overcome most reasons why insurance companies deny claims of this type).
Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.