South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Rear Driver in Rear-End Accident Presumed to Be Proximate Cause of Accident
Description

Appeals court held that it was improper for a trial court to impose some liability on a lead driver hit from behind by a speeding motorcyclist. Unless it can be shown that there was a clear reason why the lead driver was at fault, the presumption is the rear driver is negligent for hitting a vehicle from behind.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Negligence; Rear-end Collision; Presumption of Fault; Comparative Negligence

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Trooper Lozano had his car on the shoulder of a road, watching for speeding motorcyclists in a location where it was a common problem. Saleme was driving his cycle down the road. Another cycle passed him going at least 100 mph. Lozano pulled out to chase the speeding cycle. About 200 feet later, Saleme ran into the back of the Lozanoís car. He claimed he was going 65 mph. Given the length of his skid mark, the police estimated Saleme was going 80-85 mph when he slammed on the brakes before he hit Lozano. He sued the highway patrol for his injuries. The jury found Salame 85% responsible; Lozano 15% responsible, so the defendantís share was $81,000. The highway patrol appealed.

Decision

Reversed and remanded. 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, which may be rebutted when the driver produces evidence which fairly and reasonably shows that the real fact is not as presumed, and the accident is not the fault of the rear driver. Saleme did not do that at trial. The trooper was driving in a reasonable manner, with his lights on. Saleme was driving 25-30 mph over the speed limit while going over a blind hill. Lozano testified that he saw Saleme 100 yards behind him when he pulled into traffic. All drivers must keep a clear stopping distance in front of them so that they can always be ready to stop. Failure to maintain such a distance makes the rear driver the proximate cause of the accident, so no liability would be imposed on the front driver.

Citation

Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles v. Saleme, ---So.2d--- (2007 WL 519165, Ct. App., Fla., 2007)

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