FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND
DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED
from the Circuit Court for Orange County, Renee A. Roche,
Morris and Crystal Eiffert, of Eiffert & Associates,
P.A., Orlando, for Appellant.
C. Flowers, of Kubicki Draper, Ocala, for Appellee.
rear-end auto collision case, Lynn Fonger appeals the trial
court's judgment entered after a jury returned a verdict
in favor of the rear vehicle operator, James Nall. Because we
conclude the trial court erred in denying Fonger's motion
for directed verdict, we reverse.
morning of the accident, Nall was driving to work on Old
Winter Garden Road. It was sunny and clear. As Nall
approached the intersection with Killington Way, he noticed
Fonger's vehicle directly in front of him and a tan sedan
in front of Fonger. Nall testified that although the light
was green, for no apparent reason, the tan sedan came to a
complete stop just short of the intersection. Nall and Fonger
applied their brakes almost simultaneously. Fonger stopped
short of the tan sedan, which then proceeded through the
intersection, but Nall failed to stop in time and rear-ended
Fonger's car. After the trial court denied Fonger's
motion for directed verdict as to Nall's negligence, the
jury found Nall not liable, and the court entered judgment on
argues that Nall failed to present evidence sufficient to
rebut the presumption of negligence by the rear driver in a
rear-end collision, entitling him to a directed verdict as to
Nall's negligence. We review the trial court's ruling
on a motion for directed verdict de novo, Andrews v.
Direct Mail Express, Inc., 1 So.3d 1192, 1193 (Fla. 5th
DCA 2009), viewing the evidence in the light most favorable
to Nall as the non-moving party on the motion for directed
verdict. See Tenny v. Allen, 858 So.2d 1192, 1195
(Fla. 5th DCA 2003).
well established that a rear-end collision creates a
rebuttable presumption that the rear driver was negligent.
Clampitt v. D.J. Spencer Sales, 786 So.2d 570,
572-73 (Fla. 2001). If left unrebutted, the presumption
requires a directed verdict reflecting the rear driver's
negligence. See id. at 573. To rebut this
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.'" Birge
v. Charron, 107 So.3d 350, 360 (Fla. 2012) (quoting
Eppler v. Tarmac Am., Inc., 752 So.2d 592, 595 (Fla.
2000)). Once such evidence is produced, the presumption is
rebutted "and all issues of disputed fact regarding
comparative fault . . . should be submitted to the
jury." Cevallos v. Rideout, 107 So.3d 348, 349
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."
Douglas-Seibert v. Riccucci, 84 So.3d 1086, 1088-89
(Fla. 5th DCA 2012). Here, Nall contends that the evidence of
Fonger's sudden stop rebutted the presumption of
negligence and supported the trial court's denial of the
motion for directed verdict.
also well established that a sudden or abrupt stop, without
more, will not rebut the presumption of the rear driver's
negligence. Clampitt, 786 So.2d at 575; Pierce
v. Progressive Am. Ins., 582 So.2d 712, 714 (Fla. 5th
DCA 1991). This is so because each driver has a duty to
remain alert and to follow the vehicle in front of him or her
at a safe distance. See § 316.0895(1), Fla.
Stat. (2017) (providing that "[t]he driver of a motor
vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is
reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of
such vehicles and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the
highway"). In principle, "the law requires all
drivers to push ahead of themselves an imaginary clear
stopping distance or assured stopping space or adequate zone
within which the driven vehicle can come to a stop."
Clampitt, 786 So.2d at 575 (quoting Lynch v.
Tennyson, 443 So.2d 1017, 1020-21 (Fla. 5th DCA 1983)
(Cowart, J., dissenting)). Rear drivers must be prepared to
stop suddenly and to anticipate sudden stops by vehicles in
front of them. Therefore, 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."
Wright v. Ring Power Corp., 834 So.2d 329, 331 (Fla.
5th DCA 2003); see, e.g., Eppler, 752 So.2d
at 595-96 (holding that lead driver's slamming on brakes
in bumper-to-bumper traffic, without warning and for no
reason, was irresponsible, dangerous, and not reasonably
expected, and thus, rebutted presumption of rear driver's
negligence). But, if the stop occurs at a place where it was
to be expected, the presumption of negligence is not
rebutted, and the plaintiff is entitled to a directed verdict
as to the rear driver's negligence. Wright, 834
So.2d at 331.
the evidence showed a sudden stop without more. Fonger
stopped in response to the tan sedan's sudden stop as he
approached a busy traffic intersection. This is a place where
sudden stops are to be expected because "[i]t 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); see
also Clampitt, 786 So.2d 570 (holding that lead
driver's stop on two-lane, 55-mph highway was reasonably
anticipatable where lead driver rear ended trailer that was
being pulled off highway into driveway, and highway contained
several nearby entrances/exits); Hunter v. Ward, 812
So.2d 601 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002) (holding lead driver's stop
reasonably anticipatable where, from inside lane of four-lane
divided highway, first driver tried to turn left at median
break, first driver's truck hitch continued to protrude
into inside lane, and lead driver braked to avoid hitch);
Pierce, 582 So.2d 712 (holding lead drivers'
stops reasonably anticipatable where, in crowded lane of
traffic approaching busy intersection controlled by traffic
light that was in view of rear driver, four vehicles were
driving in a line, and first driver stopped for red light and
was rear-ended by second driver, who was rear-ended by third
driver, who was rear-ended by rear driver). Thus,
Fonger's stop occurred at an anticipatable time and
place, and, as such, could not serve as a basis to rebut the
presumption of Nall's negligence.
the evidence presented by Nall could not rebut the
presumption of negligence by the rear driver in a rear-end
collision, the trial court erred in denying Fonger's
motion for directed verdict. Therefore, we reverse and remand
for entry of a directed verdict on ...