9/22/2008South Dakota Supreme Court Changes Rear End Accident Liability
South Dakota Supreme Court rules that not all rear end collisions involve negligence.
It is a well-established belief that when a rear end collision occurs, the driver of the automobile that is struck is never at fault. Last week, the South Dakota Supreme Court questioned this common wisdom in upholding a jury verdict that had found Carla Jean Hall not responsible for striking from behind the vehicle of Abdelaziz Baddou on January 21, 2004.
On that day, Baddou had signaled and stopped on a two-lane road in Rapid City while waiting for traffic to clear so he could make a legal left-hand turn. Hall claimed to have been following behind one car length's distance from Baddou at about 25 MPH. Hall claimed that just before the impact she had momentarily glanced left to ensure the children on the sidewalk were not running in the middle of the street. When her attention refocused on the road ahead, she noticed Baddou's car had stopped. Hall applied the brakes and swerved, but this was not enough to prevent her car from slamming into Baddou's right rear bumper. After considering the evidence, a jury sided with Hall and found she had not been negligent.
Baddou appealed, insisting the jury's finding should be thrown out because the driver behind is always at fault in a rear end collision. The state supreme court justices in this instance pointed out that prior rear end collision case law involved the driver of the car behind admitting to some form of negligence -- usually following too closely. In this case, Hall made no such admission. The court stated that an automatic finding of negligence occurs only when a defendant admits to violating some safety law.
"Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Hall, as we must, we cannot agree with Baddou's claim that Hall's acts constituted such obvious negligence per se as to justify taking the case away from the jury," Judge Mark Barnett wrote for the unanimous court.
The court found that it was the job of the jury to sort out whether the defendant's claims were reasonable or credible.
"Reasonable minds may differ, but we must resolve doubts in favor of the jury verdict," Barnett wrote. "We, therefore, continue to decline to adopt a strict rule or presumption of negligence in cases involving rear end collisions."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 170k PDF file at the source link below.