Rear-end collisions are among the most common type of car accidents, particularly on busy city or suburban streets. Under New York law, when a moving vehicle hits a stopped vehicle in front of it, the driver of the moving vehicle is presumed negligent. This means the burden of proof is on the driver of the moving vehicle to prove he or she did not cause the accident.
For example, in a recent case the Appellate Division, Second Department, elaborated on the legal standards for assessing rear-end collisions. The accident itself presented a fairly common scenario. A passenger van stopped at an intersection in Brooklyn to discharge passengers. While stopped, a garbage truck hit the van from behind. A female passenger in the van sued the owner of both vehicles, as well as the driver of the garbage truck, alleging she suffered serious injuries in the accident.
The garbage truck defendants argued they were not liable for the accident. The garbage truck driver testified his vehicle “skidded on oil on the surface of the roadway,” and he was therefore unable to stop the vehicle before hitting the passenger van. The garbage truck driver further blamed the passenger van driver for improperly partially situating his vehicle in a “moving lane of traffic.”
Despite these arguments, Brooklyn Supreme Court granted summary judgment to the plaintiff on the issue of the garbage truck defendants' liability. On appeal, theSecond Department reversed. Although the appeals court agreed the plaintiff properly established the “legal inference” the garbage truck caused the accident, the defendants properly presented evidence with respect to a “non-negligent explanation for the collision,” as well as the comparative fault of the other driver. (Obviously, the plaintiff was not at fault for the accident, as she was simply a passenger.) These issues must be resolved at trial, and therefore summary judgment was not appropriate.
The Second Department added, “We take this opportunity to caution that trial courts must be careful to avoid concluding, in rear-end accident cases, that just because a plaintiff is a passenger in the lead vehicle, the liability of the rear vehicle is automatically established. It is not.” The court noted a plaintiff in any rear-end collision case must prove two things: First, he or she was free of comparative fault; i.e., their actions did not contribute to the accident; and second, the operator of the rear vehicle was at fault.
Need Help Following a Car Accident?As the case above illustrates, even a simple car accident can raise complex legal issues. That is why you should not attempt to deal with the legal consequences of an accident by yourself. An experienced New York personal injury attorney can assess your case, provide timely advice, and fight for your best interests in court. Accident litigation often takes months or years to resolve, so it is essential you work with an attorney who understands the process. Contact the offices of Waldhauser & Nisar, LLP, in New York City or Long Island today if you would like to speak with an attorney right away.