In the blog posting dated March 25, 2011, the author discussed the Florida Supreme Court’s review of Cevallos v. Rideout, No. SC09-2238, where the Court will determine how, or if, the rebuttable presumption that a rear-driver was the sole, proximate cause of a rear-end collision applies when the rear-driver was the plaintiff. No decision has been released yet. However, the Florida Supreme Court may further clarify the scope of the presumption in Birge v. Charron, No. SC10-1755 (review granted May 13, 2011), which was the basis for the supreme court’s conflict review of Cevallos. See Charron v. Birge, 37 So. 3d 292 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010). Birge presents the additional issue of whether the rear-end collision presumption applies where a passenger in the following vehicle sues the lead driver for negligence. The supreme court will not hold oral argument on this new case.

The Charron court held that the presumption does not apply when a rear-vehicle passenger sues the lead driver for his negligence. The district court’s succinct reasoning was grounded on principles of contributory negligence; specifically, even under Florida’s now defunct contributory negligence rule, a passenger in the rear vehicle was entitled to pursue all potential tortfeasors, including the forward drivers, in a rear-end collision. 

The Charron decision on this point, though, appears to conflict with other district court decisions. For example, the Fourth District in Marcellus v. Cronan, 963 So. 2d 364 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007), held that the passenger in a lead vehicle who sued the driver of a rear vehicle could not avail herself of the presumption because the lead vehicle may have been improperly parked or stopped on shoulder of roadway at time of accident. To the same effect is the decision in Keyser v. Brunette, 188 So. 2d 840 (Fla. 2d DCA 1966), where the Second District held that the plaintiff, who was passenger in a vehicle struck by the defendant, could not rely on the presumption because the circumstances of the accident “clearly dissipated” it. Id. at 841. On the other hand, in Kimenker v. Greater Miami Car Rental, Inc., 115 So. 2d 191 (Fla. 3d DCA 1959), the Third District held that plaintiffs, who were passengers in a vehicle struck from behind by defendant, were entitled to a directed verdict on liability based on the presumption which the defendant had not rebutted with “substantial evidence.” Id. at 192.

Charron seems to be at odds with Marcellus, Keyser and Kimenker. If a rear-vehicle passenger is immune from the presumption when a plaintiff (i.e., he or she should not be penalized by the driver’s negligence), then it would seem unfair to prevent a lead-vehicle passenger from asserting the presumption by virtue of the lead driver’s negligence.

The Appellate Strategist is currently tracking the status of this case and provides periodic updates on the link to the pending Florida Supreme Court cases. Once a decision is released, it will be linked there.