Parker v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, Dist. Court, MD Florida 2015 is a case where Shad Parker sued State Farm in the United States District Court, M.D. Florida Fort Myers Division. The court issued a ruling on September 9, 2015. This isn’t my case.
If a vehicle slammed on its brakes in front of you and caused your crash in Florida, you should know this case.
In April 2013, Parker was involved in a single vehicle accident while riding his motorcycle.
According to Parker, he was riding his motorcycle in the middle lane of a three-lane road at approximately 45 miles per hour when a vehicle travelling in the right lane moved into the center lane in front of him.
The vehicle remained in the center lane for between five and twenty seconds and then abruptly applied its brakes. As Parker applied his brakes in an attempt to avoid hitting the vehicle, the front wheel of his motorcycle locked and the motorcycle slid.
Parker and the motorcycle did not impact the other vehicle, which drove off. The driver of the so-called “phantom vehicle” was never located.
At the time of the accident, Parker had a State Farm insurance policy (the Policy) which included uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage benefits. Following the accident, Parker made a claim with State Farm pursuant to the Policy for the injuries and damages he suffered as a result of the accident.
State Farm refused to pay any benefits and Parker began this lawsuit seeking coverage under the Policy.
State Farm moved (asked) for summary judgment (dismissal), arguing that the undisputed facts demonstrate that Parker’s negligence caused the accident. Parker responded that dismissal is inappropriate because his alleged negligence is, at the very least, a disputed issue of material fact.
State Farm argues that it is entitled to dismissal because the undisputed facts establish that the accident resulted from Parker’s negligence. However, State Farm does not explain why a finding that Parker was negligent requires the Court to conclude that Parker is not entitled to benefits under the Policy.
Presumably, State Farm intends to argue that the portion of the Policy providing for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage does not entitle Parker to coverage if the accident in question resulted from Parker’s own negligence. However, State Farm’s request does not address the Policy at all, let alone cite to the portion of the Policy which would free State Farm of liability if Parker was negligent.
Thus, even if the Court were to decide that Parker was negligent, State Farm has failed to demonstrate that Parker’s negligence destroys his claim for insurance benefits. Accordingly, State Farm’s request was denied. The case is allowed to continue.
Parker’s response to State Farm’s request addresses only whether the undisputed facts establish that Parker was negligent. Thus, Parker appears to agree that he is not entitled to benefits under the Policy if the accident resulted from his negligence.
However, even if the Court assumes that the coverage issue turns on the presence or absence of Parker’s negligence, the Court nevertheless concluded that there are disputed issues of material fact relevant to that determination.
State Farm argued that Parker failed to have enough space between himself and the vehicle
State Farm argued that Parker was negligent because he failed to create enough space between himself and the phantom vehicle.
Florida law requires you to have safe stopping space
Florida 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. Failure to maintain such a zone is normally the sole proximate cause of injuries and damages resulting from the collision of a vehicle with an object ahead.”1
Accordingly, “when a vehicle collides with an object ahead of it, including the rear of a leading vehicle, there is a presumption of negligence on the part of the overtaking or following vehicle.” The presumption of negligence also applies where, as here, a non-contact accident occurs as a result of a following vehicle’s attempt to avoid a rear-end collision with a leading vehicle.
Presumption can be rebutted if following driver acting reasonably
The presumption that the following driver was negligent can be rebutted by evidence that the following driver acted reasonably under the circumstances. It is well settled that a sudden stop, without more, is insufficient to overcome the presumption of negligence.
However, “a sudden stop by the preceding driver at a time and place where it could not reasonably be expected by the following driver” overcomes the presumption of negligence and creates a factual issue to be decided by the jury.2
Thus, Parker can overcome the presumption of negligence by providing evidence that the phantom vehicle made a sudden stop and that such a stop was not reasonably expected. The Court concluded that Parker had done so. At his deposition (sworn verbal testimony), Parker testified that the phantom vehicle moved into his lane and suddenly slammed on its breaks.
At the time of the lane change, the phantom vehicle was approximately 40 feet in front of him and the vehicles were travelling at approximately 45 miles per hour. According to Parker, the time between the phantom vehicle’s lane change and the accident could have been as short as five seconds.
When asked why he was unable to safely stop once the phantom vehicle abruptly applied its brakes, Parker testified that when he applied his brakes his front wheel locked up and his motorcycle slid.
As explained above, the presumption that the following vehicle in a rear-end collision is negligent is based on a driver’s obligation to maintain a safe following distance. However, given Parker’s testimony that the phantom vehicle abruptly applied its breaks as quickly as five seconds after changing lanes, a jury could reasonably conclude that Parker was not given enough time to create a safe following distance.
Put another way, a jury could conclude that Parker could not reasonably expect an abrupt stop to occur so quickly following a lane change, thereby rebutting the presumption that Parker acted negligently. Moreover, while travelling at Parker’s estimated 45 miles per hour, Parker would have covered the approximately 40-foot gap between himself and the phantom vehicle in less than two-thirds of a second.
Thus, a jury could reasonably credit Parker’s testimony that there was nothing he could do to avoid the accident.
Credibility of Claimant is Everything If There are No Witnesses
Tip: The injured person’s credibility is a huge factor in a personal injury case. In a case like this with no witnesses, credibility is everything. If the jury does not believe the motorcyclist, he will likely get nothing. If State Farm’s claims adjuster does not believe Parker, he will also likely not get compensation.
Therefore, even assuming that Parker’s alleged negligence would kill his claim for insurance benefits, Parker’s testimony creates disputed issues of material fact relevant to the negligence determination.
The Judge was John E. Steele.
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