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New York Court Allows Plaintiff in Car Accident Case to File Otherwise Untimely Claim Based on “Relation Back”

Timeliness is very important in a New York automobile accident case. If a claim is not filed within the statute of limitations, there is a strong likelihood that it will be dismissed by the court on procedural grounds.

However, there are a few – a very few – exceptions to this general principle. One of these exceptions is based on a doctrine known as “relation back,” under which a late-filed claim can be “dated” as if it were filed earlier. However, this doctrine only applies to claims relating to a lawsuit that has already been timely filed.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the New York Court of Appeals was called upon to consider the various issues arising in three consolidated actions filed as a result of multi-vehicle accident that occurred in 2011. The accident happened when a vehicle (in which several employees of a certain business were riding) stalled on a bridge. That car was struck from behind by a second car, which was then hit by a third car. One of the passengers in the first car died from injuries suffered in the wreck.

One of the plaintiffs sought to amend his complaint to assert claims against employer of the driver and occupants of the first vehicle, relying on the relation back doctrine (the statute of limitations would otherwise have barred the claim). The trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion to amend but granted a motion by one of the defendants to amend his answer to assert a defense based on New York workers’ compensation law.

The Court’s Decision

The court of appeals reversed the lower court’s decision with respect to the plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint. Acknowledging that New York Consolidated Laws, Civil Practice Law and Rules § 203(f), is a codification of prior case law concerning the relation back doctrine, the court found that the defendant had met the requisite three conditions for relating his complaint back to the (timely-filed) original complaint – both claims arose from the same accident, the new party defendant was united in interest with the original defendant, and the new defendant knew or should have known that a claim would likely be brought against it, as well.

With respect to the lower court’s decision granting the defendant permission to amend his answer to include a defense under the workers’ compensation statute, the court affirmed. Although the applicability of the defense to the various plaintiffs was disputed, it could not be said that the defense was patently devoid of merit. Thus, the lower court correctly allowed the defendant to amend his answer to include the workers’ compensation statute as a possible defense to the plaintiffs’ actions against him.

The court also found that summary judgment was appropriate as to the “innocent passengers,” who lacked the culpability to be held at fault with regard to the accident.

Contact a Syracuse Personal Injury Lawyer

To speak to an experienced Syracuse car accident attorney, call DeFransisco & Falgiatano, LLP, at 833-200-2000. Someone is always available to take your call, and there is no charge for the initial consultation. In fact, many personal injury and wrongful death cases are accepted based upon a contingency fee agreement that does not require payment of attorney fees until your case is settled or results in a favorable judgment.

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