Fifth DCA Rules Evidence of Sudden Stop Alone Insufficient
In Fonger v. Nall, 5D17-2927 (November 15, 2019), The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in denying Fonger’s motion for directed verdict, and accordingly reversed.
The trial court case involved a rear-end motor vehicle collision, the facts of which are as follows. James Nall was driving to work on a sunny and clear morning. Nalls vehicle was traveling directly behind Lynn Fonger’s vehicle, and in front of Fonger’s vehicle was a tan sedan. The vehicles approached a green light, at which time the tan sedan came to an abrupt stop. Fonger and Nall both applied their brakes, and although Fonger was able to stop short of the tan vehicle, Nall collided with the rear-end of Fonger’s vehicle.
It is well established in Florida that in a rear-end collision, there is a rebuttable presumption that the rear driver is negligent. Clampitt v. D.J. Spencer Sales, 786 So. 2d 570, 572-73 (Fla. 2001). To rebut a presumption, the rear driver must present evidence or an explanation that “fairly and reasonably tends to show that the presumption is misplaced or that the real fact is not as presumed” Birge v. Charron, 107 So. 3d 350, 360 (Fla. 2012). There are four situation that Florida Courts generally have accepted as rebutting 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.” Douglas-Seibert v. Riccucci, 84 So. 3rd 1086, 1088-89 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012). It has been further held in Clampitt that an abrupt stop alone is insufficient to rebut a presumption, as §316.0895(1), Fla. Stat. (2017) provides that a “driver of a motor vehicle shall follow the vehicle in front of him or her at a safe distance”. Id at 575.
At the trial stage, the court denied Fonger’s motion for directed verdict as to Nall’s negligence, and a jury found Nall not liable for the collision. The 5th DCA reversed the trial court’s ruling, as Nall only produced evidence of a sudden stop, without more. The Court further reasoned that the intersection at which the tan sedan stopped was a place where sudden stops are to be expected, and “it is not at all unusual for vehicles preceding through busy intersections, for example, to have to suddenly brake for pedestrians, emergency vehicles or other drivers running a red traffic light from a cross-street.” Tacher v. Asmus, 743 So. 2d 157, 158 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999). Therefore, the Court reversed and remanded for an entry of a directed verdict on the issue of Nall’s negligence and for a new trial on all remaining issues.