In a multiple-vehicle accident, there are more than two cars that hit each other or are involved in a chain of rear-end collisions. It can be difficult enough to sort out liability in these scenarios, but it can be even more complicated when there is an allegation of a phantom vehicle or a “John Doe” driver. A “John Doe” or phantom vehicle is one that may have played an integral role in causing the crash, but never actually made contact with any of the others and either has not been identified or is not a party to the case.
This is what was being alleged by the defendant in Reboulet v. Schlosberg, tried before a jury in Georgia.
Ultimately, jurors concluded defendant was liable for the collision and awarded plaintiff $813,000 for his spinal damage.
According to Courtroom View Network, plaintiff and his personal injury attorneys contended that defendant’s vehicle was the only one to actually strike a vehicle ahead of his own in a line of cars that was approaching stopped traffic at an intersection. This is why they asserted defendant bore sole responsibility for the crash.
Plaintiff required spinal fusion surgery as a result of the neck injury he sustained in the car accident. Defense has had been unwilling to settle, with defendant’s insurer insisting the injury was not as severe as plaintiff asserted and another “John Doe” driver – one not named in the lawsuit – was actually the one to blame. (Parties that aren’t named defendants cannot be ordered to pay any damages, even if they are found partially or wholly liable.)
Plaintiff attorney disputed this assertion and said that left no choice but to take the matter to trial.
As CVN reports, plaintiff was sitting in a line of cars waiting for a vehicle that had stopped to turn left when defendant approached from behind and failed to stop. Plaintiff also struck the vehicle ahead. The defendant alleged it was not his fault the crash happened, but was actually to be blamed on the unknown “John Doe” driver who was making an illegal left turn in a straight-through lane, as opposed to turning in the left turn lane.
As a result of the crash, plaintiff suffered several damaged discs in his cervical spine, which forced him to undergo a spinal fusion. He now grapples with constant pain.
Plaintiff’s lawyer argued that despite the defense’s promise during opening statements to accept responsibility, the testimony that followed involved a complete denial of liability, largely arguing that the crash was not defendant’s fault and plaintiff’s injuries were exaggerated.
In reality, plaintiff hadn’t done anything wrong, his attorney said. He was waiting for stopped traffic and obeying the traffic laws when he was rear-ended. In rear collision accidents, there is a rebuttable presumption that the driver in the rear is to blame. There are three basic ways that the presumption can be rebutted. That involves:
- Evidence of a mechanical failure in the rear vehicle
- Evidence of a sudden/ unexpected lane change by plaintiff;
- Evidence that a vehicle was illegally stopped in the roadway.
Defendant sought to argue the third point, even if plaintiff wasn’t the driver illegally stopped. Ultimately, jurors determined defendant was still 80 percent responsible and ordered him to pay plaintiff’s damages.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
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Westphal v. St. Petersburg – Florida Injured Workers Win Big With Florida Supreme Court, June 24, 2016, Florida Car Accident Lawyer Blog