Second Department Reaffirms Standard For Denial of Summary Judgment On Grounds Of PrematurityNew York’s Appellate Division, Second Department, recently held that in motor vehicle rear-end collision cases, defendant drivers occupying the rear must do more than speculate if they are to prevail in opposing a plaintiff’s summary judgment motion. In Yonghong Xia v. Zhao Xian Zeng, Paul Gornie Briggs, et al, the Court credited plaintiff’s affidavit that demonstrated, prima facie, that defendant Briggs was negligent in striking plaintiff’s vehicle from the rear and rejected the defendant’s attempt to raise a triable issue of fact by merely contending that plaintiff’s vehicle slowed down abruptly. It has long been the rule in New York that, “[a] driver of a vehicle approaching another vehicle from the rear is required to maintain a reasonably safe distance and rate of speed under the prevailing conditions to avoid colliding with the other vehicle.” Xia v. Zeng, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 04435 (2d Dep’t Aug 30, 2023) (internal citations omitted). Liability in rear end collisions is, barring contrary evidence, typically imposed on the rear driver. Considering Second Department precedent, the Court held that defendant Briggs’ contention was insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether Zeng contributed to the accident. Slowing down or stopping short, barring further evidence of negligence, was no basis for finding plaintiff comparatively negligent in this case. The Court noted that Briggs’ own affidavit weakened his position, as he conceded an awareness of earlier rainfall that day, and equipped with such awareness, he should have been able to avoid skidding. The Court reaffirmed its standard that “[a] party contending that a summary judgment motion is premature must demonstrate that discovery might lead to relevant evidence or that the facts essential to justify opposition to the motion were exclusively within the knowledge and control of the movant.” Skura v. Wojtlowski, 165 A.D.3d 1196 (2d Dep. 2018) (emphasis added). Ultimately, Briggs did nothing more than speculate that depositions would lead to relevant evidence. Given the substantial credibility of the plaintiff’s affidavit, the Court was unwilling to yield to such speculation, and affirmed the order of the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision demonstrates the importance of party affidavits in motor vehicle rear end collision cases. Thanks to Mark Kindschuh for his contribution to this post. Should you have any questions, contact Abed Bhuyan.