Rear-end collisions are, surprisingly, quite common. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2007 study found that approximately 29% of all car accidents involve rear-end collisions. This is an unexpected statistic!

As we know in South Florida, driving is dangerous. Drivers in South Florida frequently fail to pay attention to road conditions, text while driving, use cell phones while driving, drink and drive, and engage in other dangerous behavior behind the wheel. Indeed, any one of these dangerous practices can lead to a rear-end collision car accident.

Because rear-end collisions happen often, there are common legal and factual issues involved in nearly every rear-end car accident collision case.

We will discuss them here.

  1. Who is at fault for a rear-end collision?
  2. When is a rear-end collision not your fault?
  3. Are there exceptions to the rear-end presumption of negligence?
  4. Who is at fault in a multi-car rear-end collision car accident?
  5. What steps should you take after the car accident?
  6. What are common rear-end car accident injuries?
  7. How long can you expect a settlement?

Who is at fault for a rear-end collision?

This is an interesting question.

We will discuss how Florida courts have decided to handle and determine fault in rear-end collisions.

To begin, consider this example of a typical rear-end collision. A driver, Sammy, is in his car waiting at a stoplight for several minutes. Suddenly and without any warning, another driver, Michael, slams into Sammy and injures him. What if Sammy was not looking at his rearview mirror and had no idea he was about to be hit? What if Sammy lost consciousness and has no idea what happened? How can Sammy prove Michael was negligent if Michael does not admit he was negligent?

Interestingly, Florida’s judicial system created the rear-end presumption to address these potential problems.

The rear-end presumption generally holds that “where a defendant runs into the rear of plaintiff’s car while plaintiff is stopped for a traffic light or at an intersection, there is a presumption of negligence of the defendant on which the plaintiff would be entitled to recover in the absence of an explanation by the defendant.”

The reason behind the rear-end presumption is actually quite practical. As explained in Birge v. Charron, 107 So. 3d 350 (Fla. 2012), “the presumption that arises in rear-end collision cases is a legal construct that ‘arises out of necessity’ because the front driver in a rear-end collision is usually in a poor position to observe, and thus introduce evidence on, the cause of the collision.”

Going back to the earlier example, this makes sense. Because Sammy could have a tough time proving Michael is at fault for causing the rear-end collision, Michael should be presumed at fault.

When is a rear-end collision not your fault?

Generally, a rear-end collision is not your fault when you were not negligent. That is, if the rear driver hit you and you did nothing to contribute to the accident, then the rear-end collision is not your fault.

However, if you were negligent or comparatively at fault for causing the rear-end collision car accident, your potential recovery may be reduced in part or whole depending on the facts of your case. We will look at this issue more closely in the next section.

Are there exceptions to the rear-end presumption of negligence?

Given that there is a rear-end presumption of negligence, one might believe there are no exceptions. That is, if a driver hits another driver from behind, he or she will always be presumed to be negligent. This is actually not true. There are exceptions to the rear-end presumption of negligence.

Florida courts have discussed that the rear-end presumption of negligence can be rebutted “if the defendant driver presents evidence which fairly and reasonably tends to show that the real fact is not as presumed.” Put another way, if the defendant driver can show the front driver was negligent, the rear-end presumption of negligence may not apply.

Well, how does this look in real life? What are some examples?

In the following cases, Florida courts found the rear-end presumption of negligence did not apply.

In Marcellus v. Cronan, 963 So. 2d 364 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007), the appellate court found that the rear-end presumption of negligence did not apply where there was evidence that the front car was improperly parked or stopped on the shoulder of a roadway.

So, for example, if a car is illegally parked in the middle of a road and get his from behind, this could rebut the rear-end presumption of negligence.

In Cevallos v. Rideout, 107 So. 3d 348 (Fla. 2012), the Florida Supreme Court concluded that the rear-end presumption of negligence did not apply because there was evidence the front driver was talking on her cell phone and slammed on her brakes.

So, as we can see, if there is evidence that the front driver slammed on his or her brakes without warning, the rear-end presumption may be rebutted.

Lastly, in Padilla v. Schwartz, 199 So. 2d 516 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), the appellate court noted that the rear-end presumption was overcome where the evidence showed the front driver suddenly and unexpectedly drove into the rear driver’s lane.

As we can see in Padilla, if there is a sudden and unexpected lane change, this may overcome the rear-end presumption of negligence.

As shown above, the rear-end presumption of negligence can rebutted if there is evidence showing the front driver was negligent.

Who is at fault in a multi-car rear-end collision car accident?

There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to determining fault in a multi-car rear-end car accident. Each case must be looked and examined on its merits.

Multi-Car Collision

The first thing to consider when looking at who is responsible for a multi-car rear end crash is whether any party has been negligent. If so, then it becomes necessary to determine what percentage each person shares in responsibility for their own actions.

Let’s consider some case examples.

In Tolan v. Coviello, 50 So. 3d 73 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010), there was a 4-car rear-end collision. The driver in the first car, driver one, filed a lawsuit against the three drivers behind her – drivers two, three, and four. Driver two argued she was not negligent because she came to a stop behind driver one, and then driver three hit her and pushed her into driver one. However, the appellate court found that there was evidence that driver two might have been negligent, even though she came to a complete stop and did not hit driver one. Specifically, the appellate court observed that before the accident driver two may have changed lanes and stopped suddenly. This, in turn, may have caused driver three to slam on his brakes and hit driver two. For these reasons, driver two could not rely on the rear-end presumption of negligence in her favor.

As another example, in Johnson v. Stroud, 189 So. 2d 206 (Fla. 2d DCA 1966), there was a 3-car accident. A passenger in the second car – the car in the middle – filed a lawsuit against the first car (the lead car) and the rear car. The driver in the first car argued that he was not negligent because he came to a complete stop, as the did the second car. Consequently, he argued he could not be negligent. However, the appellate court disagreed, presumably because the driver in the first car ran out of gas and stopped in a lane. So, despite being at a complete stop and being rear ended, the driver in the first car could be considered negligent.

As you can see, every multi-car rear-end collision car accident must be examined on its own facts.

Simply because a driver was hit from behind or at a complete stop in a multi-car rear-end collision accident does not mean they were not negligent.

What steps should you take after the car accident?

After a rear-end collision car accident, it is important to take several steps.

First, and if you are able, try to go to a safe place away from traffic. Indeed, you do not want to potentially be hit by oncoming traffic.

Second, contact the police. The police will come to the scene and potentially issue tickets if the officer finds someone was negligent or caused the accident.  Additionally, the officer will prepare an accident report which may include, among other things, witnesses to the rear-end car accident.

Third, take photographs of the vehicles and accident scene if you are physical able to do so.

Taking Photograph of Rear End Collision


Often times, cars will be repaired shortly after accidents and so it may be difficult to see the car in its damaged condition.

Fourth, get medical treatment. Even if you do need not emergency care, see a doctor as soon as possible. This is because injuries often will not manifest themselves right away – including soft tissue injuries and certain brain injuries. Indeed, it is better to be cautious and rule out the possibility of serious injury, rather than run the risk of exacerbating an unknown injury.

Fifth, call your insurance company. Your car insurance company will be required to provide personal injury protection (“PIP”) benefits, which provides up to $10,000 in coverage for medical expenses and lost wages. Additionally, your car insurance company – depending on your insurance coverage – may help you get your car repaired.

Sixth, seek legal counsel. Delay never helps your potential injury claim. Your personal injury lawyer will begin working on your injury claim immediately. In the days and weeks after your accident claim, your personal injury lawyer will monitor your health status and treatment, collect evidence on liability, and determine what insurance coverage there may be for your rear-end collision claim.

What are common rear-end car accident injuries?

Whiplash injuries are one of the most common injuries in rear-end collisions. Whiplash injuries can be quite painful and cause headaches, dizziness and other symptoms. Here is a visual representation of a whiplash injury:

Whiplash Injury

Additionally, while whiplash symptoms may go away after a few weeks, there are times when symptoms persist for much longer.

Further, rear-end collisions can cause:

  • Back injuries;
  • Head and brain injuries;
  • Wrist injuries;
  • Spinal cord injuries;
  • Airbag injuries;
  • Arm injuries; and,
  • Chest injuries.

In some cases, people who suffer injuries due to rear-end collisions may only realize that their pain has begun weeks later.

The length of time between your rear-end collision and when you realized you had suffered an injury depends upon multiple factors such as how severe the impact was, whether you suffered any additional trauma, etc.

However, if you notice swelling around your neck or back area, bruising, stiffening of joints, or other signs of injury, then this could indicate that you sustained a significant injury. You should consult with your physician about these medical issues.

How long can you expect a settlement?

Generally, there is no well-defined time limit for when you can expect settlements in rear-end collision car accident cases. Most personal injury claims take about a year to resolve. However, if certain facts are present you can reasonably expect to receive settlement within a shorter period of time.

For example, let’s say you were the victim in a rear-end collision and you did not contribute to the car accident in any way. Additionally, there is no dispute that you sustained serious injuries as a result of the car accident. In this example, given that the defendant was clearly at fault and you sustained injuries, it is likely your rear-end collision car accident case will settle quickly.

As another example, let’s say you were the victim in rear-end collision car accident. However, the driver that you hit you from behind claims that you came to a sudden and unexpected stop in an otherwise open road. Additionally, there are witnesses to the accident who have given conflicting accounts on liability. Some say the other driver was at fault, while others say you came to a sudden stop for no apparent reason. In this instance, because there is conflicting evidence as to who might be at fault and it is fairly clear you will not be allowed to rely on the rear-end presumption of negligence, any potential settlement will likely take longer.

Barthelette Law, Your Rear-End Collision Lawyer

At Barthelette Law, we have substantial experience representing victims in car accident cases.

How can we help you with your rear-end collision?

We will represent you during all aspects of the process leading up to your final recovery – including negotiating with insurance companies, preparing litigation documents, participating in depositions, attending court hearings, obtaining medical records, and helping ensure that you obtain maximum compensation for your injuries.

We will always keep you informed throughout every stage of your legal matter so that you know what steps need to be taken next.

It is reasonable to think you may not need an attorney to represent you in a rear-end car accident. Indeed, if the at-fault driver is clearly at fault then there’s no need to involve an attorney since the at-fault driver’s insurance company will simply pay on the claim. But this may not be correct.

First, studies have shown that personal injury attorneys will get you more money.

This is not a surprise. Personal injury lawyers’ training focuses on maximizing the value of your personal injury case. And, personal injury lawyers know the value of your rear-end car accident claim.

Second, not only do personal injury lawyers help maximize your financial recovery, they also help with other, important issues. For example, personal injury lawyers interact with your health insurer and medical providers to ensure that all of your health insurance liens and medical bills are paid from your settlement.

Third, personal injury lawyers know the value of rear-end collision cases.  Indeed, what may seem like a fair settlement offer from the negligent driver’s insurer may in fact be a low-ball settlement offer.

At Barthelette Law, we are ready to help you with these and all other issues you will face in your car accident case.

Contact us today!