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New York Court Reverses Summary Judgment, Holding that Driver Who Had Right-of-Way Might Still be Partially at Fault in Crash

Sometimes, a Syracuse automobile accident case seems very simple at first. If one driver runs a stop sign and causes an accident, that driver – and only that driver – is at fault, right?

Unfortunately, things are not always as they seem, especially when it comes to motor vehicle accident litigation. This is especially true when it comes to multi-car accidents and the resolution of issues pertaining to comparative negligence.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiffs were two individuals who were injured in a multi-vehicle crash. They filed separate lawsuits naming several other drivers as defendants. One driver (and his father, who owned the vehicle he was driving when the accident occurred) filed motions for summary judgment in the plaintiffs’ respective cases. As grounds, they averred that they could not be held liable for the plaintiffs’ damages because the defendant driver had the right-of-way at the time of the accident. According to the defendants’ view of the case, the conduct of another driver, who allegedly ran a stop sign, was the sole proximate cause of the accident.

The Supreme Court of Niagara County granted summary judgment, thereby dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaints against these defendants.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, reversed the trial court’s decisions in the underlying cases and restated the plaintiffs’ complaints against them. Although it was undisputed that another motorist was guilty of at least some negligence in proceeding through the intersection rather than yielding the right-of-way to the defendant driver, the court pointed out that there can be more than one proximate cause of a motor vehicle accident in some cases.

In the reviewing court’s opinion, the defendants had failed to meet their burden of showing, as a matter of law, that the defendant driver was not negligent and/or that his negligence was not a proximate cause of the accident. Although the defendant driver was entitled to anticipate that the other motorist would obey the traffic laws, he nevertheless had a duty to exercise reasonable care in proceeding through the intersection. Under New York law, drivers cannot “blindly and wantonly” enter an intersection. According to the court, the defendants’ own submissions raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant driver had met his duty to “see what should be seen” under the circumstances and to avoid the accident if possible. In so holding, the court noted that multiple witnesses saw the other vehicle approaching the intersection without slowing down.

Contact a Syracuse Car Accident Lawyer

Motor vehicle accident cases are rarely as simple as they initially seem. If you or a member of your family has been hurt in an automobile accident, you need competent, assertive legal representation as you seek fair compensation for what you have been through. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced Syracuse car accident lawyer, call DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, today at 315-479-9000. We represent injured individuals and the families of those who have passed away due to another’s negligence throughout upstate New York.

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