If you are driving a vehicle involved in a motor vehicle accident, you will not be able to recover damages from the other driver if he or she can prove you were actually at fault. This includes situations where you committed a traffic violation, thereby establishing your own negligence. The other driver must still prove he or she was not negligent, and took "reasonable care" to avoid the accident, but any negligence on your part may reduce or even eliminate any judgment award in your favor.
A recentdecision by the Appellate Division, Second Department, illustrates how a plaintiff's own negligence can defeat a personal injury claim. In this case, the plaintiff was driving her vehicle out of a shopping center parking lot in Staten Island. The parking lot was adjacent to Richmond Avenue, a four-lane road, and nearby an intersection with another main road. According to the plaintiff, she exited the parking lot and executed a left-hand turn onto Richmond Avenue. There was a bus stopped in front of her vehicle, and as she made her turn, her car collided with another vehicle operated by the defendant.
The plaintiff sued the driver and owner of the other vehicle for injuries she allegedly sustained in the accident. Richmond Supreme Court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Second Department reversed, however, and said the plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed.
According to the Second Department's decision, the plaintiff was solely responsible for the accident. In his deposition, the defendant driving the second vehicle testified the plaintiff was "moving into traffic from in front of the stopped bus when his vehicle was halfway past the bus, which was less than a second prior to impact." In other words, the plaintiff failed to yield to oncoming traffic as she attempted to turn onto Richmond Avenue. This was negligence as a matter of law. New York's Vehicle and Traffic Code clearly states, "The driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway to be entered or crossed."
Now, just because a motorist has the right-of-way, that does not automatically mean he is not at least partly responsible for the accident. But in this case, the Second Department was satisfied the defendant did nothing wrong. The defendant's own testimony established he had, at most, a second to react to the plaintiff's negligent driving. While the law requires all motorists to exercise reasonable care in avoiding accidents, the Second Department said, when a driver "has only seconds to react to a vehicle that has failed to yield," he should not be considered negligent.
Cases like this highlight the importance of reconstructing every detail of a motor vehicle accident. Every action or inaction by a driver can affect the outcome of the litigation. If you are considering a personal injury lawsuit against a potentially negligent driver, you should work with an experienced New York accident attorney who can ensure your best interests are represented.Contact our office today if you have any questions.