The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has issued a recent decision that clarifies the law in Maryland that applies to rear-end vehicle collisions. A rear-end collision is a type of traffic accident where one vehicle crashes into the rear of the vehicle in front of it. Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of traffic accidents and can be caused by:
- Speeding – going too fast can affect a driver’s ability to stop in time;
- Tailgating – following another vehicle too closely can reduce the time a driver has to react to sudden changes;
- Poor road conditions – stopping can take more time on a wet or slippery road;
- Driver inattention – talking on a cell phone, eating, or looking away from the road can all lead to a rear-end collision; or
- Driving under the influence – being under the influence of alcohol or drugs can impair a driver’s ability to react.
Presumption of Negligence in Maryland Rear-End Collision Cases
In a previous post on this blog, we discussed how there is generally a presumption in Maryland that when a motor vehicle is struck from behind, the rear-ending driver is assumed to be negligent. A presumption is a legal inference that allows a judge or jury to assume a conclusion in light of certain facts. Most presumptions, including the one in rear-end accident cases, are rebuttable. This means that a driver who rear-ends another driver can overcome the presumption of negligence if they have sufficient evidence that they were not negligent.
One case, Andrade v. Housein, 147 Md. App. 617 (2002), is commonly cited by lawyers in support of this presumption. A large part of the focus of the Court of Special Appeals’ recent decision in Cooper v. Singleton is on clarifying when Andrade applies and when it does not.
Cooper v. Singleton
The facts in Cooper involve a six-vehicle car crash. Several cars were stopped in a row at a red light when the defendant, Singleton, crashed into rear car, causing a chain reaction. At trial, Singleton argued the defense of sudden incapacity. Singleton had his doctor testify that, even though he had regularly taken his prescribed medication, he had suffered an unanticipated seizure which caused the accident. The plaintiff, Cooper, wanted the jury to be instructed that there was a rebuttable presumption that Singleton was negligent. The judge declined to give this instruction, and Cooper lost the case and appealed.
The Court of Special Appeals interpreted the Andrade presumption narrowly, distinguishing between cases where there are other possible causes for the rear-end collision and cases where there is no other possible cause. Andrade, the Court said, creates a presumption only in cases where there is no other possible cause for the rear-end collision.
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