Can I be liable if my car is rear-ended in Florida?You are rear-ended in Florida. Is the driver behind you automatically at fault? The short answer is, most likely, but the long answer is, not always. In Florida, as in virtually all states, each driver has a responsibility to maintain safe control of their vehicle at all times when they are driving. If you are involved in a rear-end accident in this state, the collision is usually the fault of the driver in the back because under Florida law, drivers must travel at a safe distance away from the vehicle in front of them. If you cannot come to a safe stop, the presumption is you were traveling too closely. But, in Florida, as in many states, this presumption is rebuttable.
You can be liable if the driver in back can prove he wasn't solely at fault
The presumption that the driver in back was the sole cause in a rear-end collision may be rebutted when the driver in the back produces evidence which fairly and reasonably tends to show that the rear-end collision was not a result or not solely a result of his or her negligence. The courts in Florida have recognized three specific fact patterns, which may rebut this presumption:
- The driver in back shows evidence regarding a mechanical failure that caused or contributed to the cause of the rear-end accident;
- The driver in back shows evidence of the driver in front having suddenly or unexpectedly stopped or unexpectedly changed lanes; or
- The driver in back shows evidence that the vehicle in front illegally and, therefore, unexpectedly stopped.
Regarding a mechanical failure, suppose you were driving one of those Priuses that were recalled for sudden acceleration, and it sped up on the road when approaching a car stopped at a traffic signal, hitting that car from behind. That would likely qualify to rebut the presumption that your car in the rear was at fault. Not that it shifts the blame to the front car, but it gets the rear car off the hook from sole liability. It also puts Toyota, in this example, in the hot seat.
We all hate those drivers who cut in front of us at the last second while they are changing lanes on the highway, leaving you little room to come to a safe slow down or stop before hitting their car. In Florida, if you can prove it happened that way, you can absolve yourself of some or all of the liability for his or her damages, and the driver of the car in front that was "rear-ended" could be found negligent, and therefore, liable for the rear-end collision.
An illegal, and, therefore, unexpected stop by the car in front will also free the driver in back from some or all of the responsibility for the rear-end crash in Florida. Suppose you are on the road and the driver in front of you comes to a complete stop for no reason at all. There's no slowing or stopped traffic ahead of them, no obstruction on the road, no traffic signal of any kind, no pedestrian crossing the street. I have seen this happen when a driver decides to make a turn into a driveway, and no signal is used. That may be considered an illegal stop, and, if the rear driver can prove it, the front driver may be found liable in whole or in part for causing the rear-end collision.
Florida is a "comparative negligence" state, so if more than one driver is responsible for having caused the accident, each party will be assigned a percentage of liability. Your recovery of damages is reduced by a percentage reflecting how much you contributed to the cause of the accident. Generally, this is done among the insurance adjusters representing each of their insurers, unless the matter winds up in court. Suppose there are two people involved, and the adjusters agree that the driver in the rear is only 60% responsible because the driver in front cut him off when he changed lanes. The front driver's damages will be reduced by 40% when the claim is settled.
Be aware that when there is a possibility of comparative negligence, it can get complicated. The adjusters may not agree on the percentages of fault, or an accident reconstructionist might be required to provide factual evidence. The matter could wind up in court to have liability legally apportioned. This is why it is important that you retain an attorney immediately after a rear-end collision where liability is not perfectly clear. Note that the days after the car accident are crucial to investigate whether the rear driver will be raising one of the three fact patterns that could rebut their presumed negligence. It is best not to wait to hire an accident lawyer.
Check out the following articles for more information on Florida car accidents: