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New York Court Grants Partial Summary Judgment in Rear-End Collision Case

In a Rochester or Syracuse rear-end collision, there is a presumption that the person driving the automobile that ran into the back of the other was a fault in the accident. While there are some circumstances in which the defendant in such a case may be able to avoid liability, the burden is on him or her to prove that there was some reason – other than his or her negligence – for the collision.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a woman who filed suit against the defendants, the owner and the operator of a certain automobile, seeking compensation for injuries she allegedly suffered in a rear-end collision. The defendants sought summary judgment, averring that the plaintiff had not sustained a “serious injury” as that term is defined under New York Insurance Law § 5102(d) (including the categories of significant limitation of use, permanent consequential limitations of use, and 90/180 days). The plaintiff also sought summary judgment, asking the court to rule in her favor both the issue of serious injury and negligence.

The Supreme Court of Niagara County partially granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiff’s cross motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff sought review from the intermediate appellate court.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department modified the lower court’s order, denying summary judgment to the defendants as to the permanent consequential limitation of use and significant limitation of use categories of serious injury within the meaning of § 5102(d). The court then reinstated the plaintiff’s complaint as to these issues and granted the plaintiff’s cross motion as to the issue of negligence.

According to the court on appeal, the plaintiff had failed to meet her burden regarding the significant limitation of use and permanent consequential limitation of use claims, but the lower tribunal should have granted her summary judgment on her cross motion for summary judgment as to the 90/18- day category of serious injury under § 5102(d).

The appellate tribunal also found that the trial court had committed reversible error in failing to grant summary judgment to the plaintiff on the issue of negligence. In so holding, the court pointed out that it was well-settled New York law that a rear-end collision with a stopped vehicle, such as was the case here, established a prima facie case of negligence. While this presumption of negligence was rebuttable if the driver could submit a non-negligent explanation for the crash (such a sudden stop of the lead vehicle), this was not the case here. Rather, the driver testified in her deposition that she remembered both cars being stopped but that she thought the other car was beginning to move so she hit her accelerator. Under these circumstances, the defendant’s testimony established her own negligence (failure to exercise reasonable care) rather than rebut the plaintiff’s case against her.

Contact an Attorney

At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, our established personal injury attorneys handle many different types of motor vehicle collisions, including car accidents, truck accidents, recreational vehicle accidents, and school bus accidents in and around Syracuse and Rochester, New York. To schedule an appointment, call us at 315-479-9000. There is no charge for the consultation, and most cases are handled on a contingency contract (no attorney fee unless we win).

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