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Summary Judgment on Issue of Bus Driver’s Liability Was Erroneous, According to Reviewing New York Court

Syracuse car accident cases often come down to the question of which party (or, sometimes, which eyewitness) to believe. If one party says he was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light and this testimony is unopposed, he or she may be granted partial summary judgment; in such a situation, a trial will only be necessary if the parties disagree on the issue of damages.

However, if the opposing party or another witness claims that the accident happened when one party abruptly darted in front of the other and stopped unnecessarily, the case will probably proceed toward a jury trial on the question of fault. After all, one of the main duties of a jury member is to resolve factual inconsistencies by deciding who to believe when the parties disagree about what happened.

Facts of the Case

In a case appealed from the Supreme Court of Bronx County, the plaintiff was a man who alleged that he was injured as a result of the negligence of the defendant bus driver. He also asserted a claim against the bus driver’s employer, most likely asserting a claim of vicarious liability (although the exact details of this portion of the case was not explained in the appeal). According to the plaintiff, the accident occurred when he was stopped at an intersection and rear-ended by the bus.

The plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to N.Y. C.P.L.R. 3212, asserting that he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability. The defendants filed a response to the plaintiff’s motion, urging the court to deny the motion and allow the matter to proceed to trial on the issue of liability. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion; it also struck the defendants’ affirmative defenses pursuant to N.Y. C.P.L.R. 3211(b).

The Decision of the Reviewing Court

The Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department reversed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment to the plaintiff as to liability and striking the defendants’ affirmative defenses (which alleged certain culpable conduct). In the reviewing court’s opinion, the lower tribunal had made a reversible error in granting summary judgment. Under New York law, summary judgment (or “judgment as a matter of law”) is to be granted only in situations in which there were no genuine issues of material fact as to a particular issue (if only partial summary judgment is sought) such as liability or as to the case as a whole.

In so holding, the court pointed out that, although the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to make a prima facie on the issue of liability by claiming that the accident was caused by the defendant bus driver’s failure to maintain a safe distance between the bus and the plaintiff’s vehicle, the defendants had also submitted evidence about the cause of the accident to the effect that the plaintiff’s abrupt lane change caused the crash. (The defendants also claimed that the plaintiff had darted in front of the bus and stopped suddenly even though there was a green light). Therefore, the matter should proceed to trial for a resolution of the factual issues concerning liability, in the reviewing court’s view.

To Get Legal Advice About a Car Accident in Upstate New York

At the law firm of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, we work hard to represent the interests of individuals and families who have been hurt by the careless, reckless, and negligent conduct of others. To schedule a free office visit to talk about your case and learn more about how we can help in your car or bus accident case, call us at 833-247-8427 or 315-479-9000. If you prefer, you can contact us through this website.

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