Given the State of modern technology and people’s comfort with using it, it is hardly uncommon for someone to be distracted by a cell phone, iPad, games, or other technology while driving a vehicle. This is despite there being laws against such distracted driving. Necessarily, when engaging with a screen, a driver’s eyes are off the road. This has led to innumerable rearend collision auto accidents.

But what if you were not distracted by a screen and yet still found a way to rearend another vehicle? Are you automatically at-fault? The short answer is no. But like most things in the law, the full answer is more nuanced.


There is a Presumption that Trail Vehicle in a Rear-End Collision is At-Fault

Florida law uses presumptions in a variety of circumstances where experience tells us that if a certain set of facts exist, it usually occurred in a certain manner. In a rearend collision, when that occurs, Florida law presumes that the rearend driver is at-fault. Experience tells us that that driver was the one who had the opportunity to avoid the collision and that but for their distraction or negligence, the accident never occurs. Eppler v. Tarmac America, Inc., 752 So.2d 592 (Fla. 2000).

However, this is a rebuttable presumption. In other words, if the facts indicate that the driver in front caused the collision, the presumption will disappear, and a jury can decide who caused the accident without the benefit of the presumption. Birge v. Charron, 107 So.3d 350 (Fla. 2012).

Florida courts have recognized three fact patterns that may rebut this presumption. These are: (1) a mechanical failure, (2) a sudden and unexpected stop or unexpected lane change by the car in front, and (3) when a vehicle has been illegally and, therefore, unexpectedly stopped. See Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles v. Saleme, 963 So.2d 969, 972 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007).


Jackson v. Pittman & Sons Concrete Company, Inc.

In this case from 2023, Jackson v. Pittman & Sons Concrete Company, Inc., et a, 31 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 535a (Fla. 4th Cir. Ct. 2023), Jackson was driving a vehicle on the interstate. There was construction on the road at that time. Additionally, there were safety barriers placed on the roadway to allow vehicles exiting the construction area to build up speed prior to merging into the highway.

On the date of the accident, Jackson was driving in the lane nearest the construction. A Pittman vehicle was entering the highway and had built speed in the newly created merge lane. Jackson failed to yield for the Pittman vehicle and struck it from behind. She suffered tremendous injuries.

Jackson was unsuccessful in overcoming the presumption against rear-driver fault in a rearend collision. She tried to argue that Pittman was negligent in entering the highway at a speed slower than what she was travelling. However, there was a witness to the crash who testified that he clearly saw the Pittman vehicle enter, observed Jackson failing to slow down, and was able to anticipate the collision and avoid involvement therein. The only chance Jackson had to avoid the presumption was if Pittman had made a sudden and unexpected lane change. That clearly was not the case.


As such, the court dismissed the case by granting summary judgment in favor of defendants.