Florida Supreme Court Rules That Rear-End Drivers May Not Be At Fault – Birge v. Charron

By December 14, 2012July 17th, 2019Auto Accidents

It is well known to St. Louis motor vehicle accident attorneys like me that in a rear-end accident, the driver in the rear vehicle is almost always determined to be at fault. In fact, in cases where that’s not true, it can be difficult for the rear driver to convince insurance companies that there was no way to stop in time. So I was interested to read the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion in Birge v. Charron, which determined that rear drivers may rebut the legal presumption that they are at fault. Crystal Charron was a passenger on a motorcycle that hit the back of Warren Birge’s car and flipped over. The motorcycle operator, William Smith, was not a party to the case because he had settled separately, but Charron argued that Birge was operating his car so negligently that he caused the crash with Smith. The Florida high court upheld an appeals court ruling saying because the state uses comparative negligence in crashes, Charron may rebut the presumption that Smith was at fault because he was in the rear.
In February of 2007, Charron was riding on the back of Smith’s motorcycle on a thoroughfare. The high court notes that eyewitness accounts of the crash are highly divergent, but Charron claimed that Birge suddenly slammed on the brakes for no apparent reason. Smith unsuccessfully attempted to avoid a collision with Birge, causing the motorcycle to flip and injure Charron. The issue of who was at fault for this crash was not tried in court, because the trial court granted summary judgment to Birge, saying Charron could not rebut the legal presumption that Smith was negligent because he was the rear driver. On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed, saying Charron had evidence that could convince a reasonable jury that Birge was at least partly at fault for the crash. Because Florida uses comparative fault, the appeals court said rear drivers should be permitted to make their cases.
The Florida Supreme Court took up the case, noting that the decision agreed with many but not all of the previous appeals decisions on this question. Ultimately, the court agreed that the presumed negligence of a rear driver is rebuttable, even when the rear driver cannot establish a complete lack of negligence on his or her part. Florida uses a tort recovery rule of pure comparative negligence, which means when both plaintiff and defendant are at fault, the plaintiff’s recovery may be reduced by the proportion of his or her fault. (That is, if she is 10 percent at fault, her financial award is reduced by 10 percent.) The goal was expressly to ensure that recoveries were based on a percentage of fault. Thus, it said, a rear-end driver’s negligence cannot be a bar to any recovery. Furthermore, the high court said, it has consistently held that rear-driver negligence is a rebuttable presumption. Thus, it held that when a plaintiff can show evidence that the rear driver was not at fault, a jury should hear the dispute.
As a Missouri car accident lawyer, I’m pleased to see this ruling. Though most jurisdictions agree that a rear driver is usually at fault, most of them also permit the rear driver to prove otherwise when the evidence is available. As I said, this can be difficult for rear drivers to prove, particularly when the insurance company is looking for a reason to deny coverage to victims. Unfortunately, insurance companies are especially likely to look for that excuse when the injuries are severe and thus very expensive, because they save money when they don’t pay claims. As a result, some of the most severely injured motorists are the ones who have to fight for the insurance coverage they already paid for. As a southern Illinois car wreck attorney, I help victims press for the compensation they need to deal with a crash.


If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries in a car crash that was someone else’s fault, Carey, Danis & Lowe can help. For a free, confidential case evaluation, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message through our website.
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