Not all motor vehicle accidents take place on the highway. In this particular case, three vehicles got into an accident at a bank drive-through window in Suffolk County. The three cars were waiting on the drive-through line when the rear vehicle struck the middle vehicle, propelling it into the front vehicle. A passenger in the middle vehicle later sued the drivers of the middle and rear vehicles in Queens Supreme Court, alleging negligence.
The driver of the middle vehicle—the one the plaintiff was in when the accident occurred—moved for summary judgment. Basically, the middle driver argued she could not, as a matter of law, be held liable in any way for the accident. The plaintiff did not oppose this motion, but the other defendant did.
Dellicarpini v. Burger
On May 11, Queens Supreme Court granted the motion for summary judgment, dismissing the middle driver as a defendant. This means the plaintiff will continue his lawsuit solely against the rear driver. Judge Robert J. McDonald said under New York law, “a rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle creates a prima facie case of negligence on the part of the driver of the rearmost vehicle, requiring the operator of that vehicle to proffer an adequate, non-negligent explanation for the accident.” In this case, the middle driver testified her vehicle was stopped when the rear driver collided with it. This created a legal presumption the rear driver was entirely responsible for the accident unless she could offer some evidence to the contrary.
Judge McDonald said not only did the rear driver fail to offer such evidence, she effectively admitted responsibility to the police at the scene of the accident. A police report submitted to the court said the rear driver admitted she hit the middle vehicle “when her leg cramped and she hit the accelerator rather than the brake” of her own car. This was enough, the judge said, to find the rear driver was the “sole proximate cause of the accident.”
The rear driver attempted to argue there were holes in the middle driver's testimony that warranted further discovery. Judge McDonald said that was not justified. A party is entitled to summary judgment if there are no genuine disputes of material fact. Here, Judge McDonald noted, “The mere hope and speculation that evidence sufficient to defeat the motion might be uncovered during discovery is an insufficient basis upon which to deny the motion.” And that was all the rear driver could offer. The uncontested evidence clearly demonstrated she was at fault for the accident. Additional discovery was unlikely to prove otherwise.
Getting the Facts Straight
If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, it is important to gather all the facts. As the case above demonstrates, a police report is often essential in establishing the basic facts for a judge or jury to determine liability. The law contains certain presumptions regarding liability, and whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in a personal injury lawsuit, it is imperative you understand how the facts support or rebut such presumptions. It is equally important you work with an experienced New York accident attorney. Contact our offices today if you need to speak with someone immediately.