It may not be who you think.Conventional wisdom says that a driver who rear-ends another driver is at fault. Nevertheless, Louisiana law says that presumption of guilt can be overcome under certain circumstances. In Anderson v May, the court said, “In a rear-end collision, the following motorist is presumed to have breached this duty and he bears the burden of proving that he was not negligent.” So, while the driver who rear-ended another car is presumed to be at fault, the court has opened a window so that it is possible to overcome that presumption.
The Reasonable Driver Assumption
How? The court in Anderson goes on to say that, “While the following motorist may assume that the preceding vehicle is being driven with care and caution, he must drive at an appropriate speed and must maintain an interval between the two vehicles as would enable him to avoid a collision with the preceding vehicle under circumstances which should be reasonably anticipated.”
In other words, the driver who rear-ended another car cannot just assume the car in front is being driven with care, and instead, must show that they had maintained an appropriate speed and distance from the car in front of them under the circumstances. The word “circumstances” is key here. What a court may determine to be an appropriate distance from the car in front can vary significantly depending on weather, road conditions, and the types of vehicles involved. The short answer is that a driver should be reasonably cautious and set a distance that would allow them to avoid a collision.
Assuming that you left a reasonable gap between you and the car in front of you under the conditions, what more must you prove?
Louisiana’s Sudden Emergency Doctrine
Louisiana, along with many other states, has something called the “sudden emergency doctrine.” The doctrine says, “that a following motorist will be adjudged free from fault if the following motorist is suddenly confronted with an unanticipated hazard created by a forward vehicle, which could not be reasonably avoided, unless the emergency is brought about by his own negligence.”
The court in Ly sets out two requirements: first, that the hazard was “unanticipated” and second, that the forward vehicle “could not reasonably be avoided.” Going back to our original scenario, if the driver in front of you suddenly slams on their brakes, that would most likely meet the “unanticipated” part, but you would also have to prove that you could not “reasonably” avoid hitting the car in front of you.
Again, circumstances matter. On a busy interstate, if the person in front of you suddenly slams on their brakes, there’s a good chance there may be no place to go to avoid a collision.
In summary, facts, circumstances, and case law can all play a role in determining fault, and something as simple as a rear end collision can be far more complicated than it seems.
If you were injured due to another driver’s negligence, contact a personal-injury lawyer from Morris Bart, LLC. We can evaluate your case, gather evidence, structure your claim and handle settlement negotiations on your behalf. Call 800-537-8185 to schedule a consultation and discuss your legal options.