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Florida Fifth DCA rules in motor vehicle negligence case that evidence of a sudden stop by the plaintiff, without more, did not rebut presumption of negligence by the rear driver in a rear-end collision

November 15, 2019, in Fonger v. Nall, No. 5D17-2927, the Florida Fifth DCA reversed a trial court’s directed verdict for the defendant in a motor vehicle negligence case. The defendant had rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle but argued that the rebuttable presumption of negligence should not apply to him because the plaintiff had suddenly stopped just short of an intersection with a green light. The plaintiff had stopped because of the sudden stop of the vehicle in front of her. The Fifth DCA noted that to rebut the presumption, the rear driver must come forward with evidence or some explanation that “fairly and reasonably tends to show that the presumption is misplaced or that the real fact is not as presumed,” quoting from Birge v. Charron, 107 So. 3d 350, 360 (Fla. 2012). The Fifth DCA cited its previous decision in Douglas-Seibert v. Riccucci, 84 So. 3d 1086, 1088-89 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012), for the proposition that courts in this state have generally recognized four situations to rebut the presumption: (1) a mechanical failure in the rear driver’s vehicle, (2) the lead driver’s sudden stop, (3) the lead driver’s sudden lane change, and (4) the lead driver’s illegal or improper stop. The Fifth DCA opined that it is also well established that a sudden or abrupt stop, without more, will not rebut the presumption of the rear driver’s negligence, citing in support Clampitt v. D.J. Spencer Sales, 786 So. 2d 570, 575 (Fla. 2001), and Pierce v. Progressive Am. Ins., 582 So. 2d 712, 714 (Fla. 5th DCA 1991). The Court added that to rebut the presumption of negligence in a rear-end collision through evidence of the lead driver’s sudden stop, the rear driver must show that the stop was “not expected, i.e., ‘abrupt and arbitrary,’ and in a place not reasonably expected,” quoting from Wright v. Ring Power Corp., 834 So. 2d 329, 331 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003). Given the fact that the accident occurred near a busy traffic intersection, the Court concluded that a sudden stop should have been expected.

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