You probably think that the driver who rears-ends another car or truck is automatically at fault.
Since there are a shocking 1.7 million rear-end collisions each year in the U.S. which take the lives of 1,700 people and injure 500,000 others, they are serious problems that need to be prevented.
But juries and courts have eased up on the quality and quantity of the evidence required to defeat these cases.
A new decision from the Fort Worth Court of Appeals, Lee v. Carmona, appears to make it harder to win rear-end lawsuits.
Lee was stopped on McCart Avenue in Fort Worth waiting for 15-20 seconds for the vehicle in front of him to make a turn.
Carmona was driving behind Lee when he claimed he reached up to scratch his eye and inadvertently knocked off his glasses. As he reached around on the floor to grab them, he told the jury that he still kept his foot on the brakes, his left hand on the steering wheel, and his eyes on the road, but was not able to avoid the collision.
Further, he rear-ended Lee’s smaller car a second time when he became disoriented when his air bag deployed and he hit the gas pedal.
Carmona even admitted responsibility but insisted he was not negligent.
The jury found that he was not to blame for the two collisions and the plaintiff appealed.
What does an injured person need to prove these days?
To prevail in an auto accident negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove four things:
- The other driver had a legal duty of care;
- The other driver breached that duty;
- The accident was proximately caused by the other driver’s breach of duty; and
On appeal, the two judges in the majority held that the defendant successfully disputed the third element. They acknowledged that Carmona could have pulled off the road or just have driven without his glasses. After all, he admitted he didn’t actually need to wear his glasses to drive.
Would “I dropped my iPhone defense” work now too?
The dissenting opinion called the dropped glasses defense “dubious” and the decision “manifestly wrong.”
The judge observed ominously that drivers could now claim immunity for “simultaneously reaching for a dropped cell phone, granola bar, bottled water cap, or any other object that the driver has no need to immediately possess but nevertheless desires to retrieve.”
She cited a case that overturned the jury’s verdict of no negligence because it was so evident that a driver was intoxicated that the competing evidence from other witnesses was overruled.
If feeling around the floor for unneeded glasses and crashing into a stopped car isn’t negligent, what is?
Berenson Injury Law has litigated similar cases including several where 18-wheeler drivers unsuccessfully claimed that they were reaching for food or drinks when they crashed into our clients’ vehicles and seriously injured them.
It is true that Texas courts have always held that just because a car accident happened, it does not automatically mean that negligence occurred. That makes sense.
And Texas is a modified comparative fault state, so the behavior of all drivers is weighed. For example, if the person in front slammed on his brakes for no reason, the jury can and should assign a large percentage of responsibility to him.
But you would think that in the typical rear-end collision where the car in front is at a complete stop, as here, a verdict for the plaintiff would be a given.
Insurance company lawyers must be drinking champagne — and telling their insured drivers they can win their lawsuit if they rear-end someone while they are.
This is another reason to hire a good Fort Worth personal injury lawyer if you have been involved in an auto accident.