Louisiana law requires that the driver of a motor vehicle maintain a safe distance from other cars and that the driver “not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.” A driver who rear-ends another car is “presumed to have breached this duty” and, therefore, is assumed to be negligent. To challenge this presumption, the driver must prove he was not at fault for the collision by establishing two facts: 1) that he had his vehicle under control, and 2) closely observed the lead vehicle and followed at a safe distance under the circumstances. See Broussard v. Zurich American Ins. Co. The driver can also avoid fault by showing that the driver of the leading car “negligently created a hazard which could not reasonably be avoided. In the case of a multi-car accident, “the fact that the second driver is able to see and avoid an emergency situation ahead sets the standard of care applicable to the other following drivers.” Anderson v. May.
A three-car accident was at the center of Ebarb v. Matlock, a case recently decided by Louisiana’s Second Circuit Court of Appeal. On December 3, 2008, Yolanda Ebarb was driving her Kia Sorento in the left east-bound lane of I-20 in Bossier City. As she approached the overpass at Old Minden Road, she observed that the traffic ahead in both lanes had stoped. She applied her brakes and came to a complete stop safely behind the vehicle in front of her. A moment later, David Terry, driving his Jeep Cherokee also in the left east-bound lane of I-20, approached the same location. Terry noticed the stopped traffic and safely stopped his vehicle directly behind Ebarb’s.Then, Terry’s Jeep was hit from behind at high speed by a Ford F-250 pickup truck driven by Phillip Matlock. The Jeep pushed forward, rolled over, and collided with Ebarb’s Kia. Ebarb suffered a serious spinal injury as a result. Matlock was cited for following to closely at the scene. Ebarb sued both Terry and Matlock. The trial court granted summary judgment against Ebarb in Terry’s favor and against Matlock in Ebarb’s favor. Matlock appealed. The Second Circuit reviewed the law on rear-end collisions in Louisiana and the presumption of negligence against the driver. The court applied a duty-risk analysis to the circumstances and to Matlock’s conduct, which was bolstered only by his “self-serving statements” that he had his vehicle under control, closely observed the lead vehicle, and followed at a safe distance under the circumstances.” The court concluded that Matlock failed to meet the standard of care “established” by Terry and Ebarb when they were both able to safely stop their cars after coming upon the stalled traffic. The court noted that “to rebut the objective evidence that two other drivers were able to safely stop and avoid a collision, Mr. Matlock has failed to offer any competent evidence.” Because Matlock “failed to establish that he will be able to rebut the presumption of his own negligence at trial,” the court affirmed the trial court’s judgment for Ebarb.
The facts of this case left Matlock with little opportunity to rebut the presumption of his negligence in rear-ending Terry’s Jeep. That Ebarb and Terry both managed to stop safely when they realized the traffic was stopped ahead suggests that any reasonable driver in control of his vehicle should have been able to do the same. Without evidence of any mitigating circumstances, Matlock’s defense was overcome by the presumption of his negligence.
If you have been injured in a car accident, call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help you obtain the recovery you deserve.