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Defendants’ Conflicting Accounts Held Fatal To Their Summary Judgment Motion (NY)

December 2, 2022

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When moving for summary judgment in a New York negligence action, the moving defendant has the burden of establishing, prima facie, that he or she was not at fault in the happening of accident. Evidence of fault on the part of the defendant can defeat the motion and can come from the defendant’s own proofs.

For example, in <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Charles-v.-American-Dream-Coaches.pdf">Charles v. American Dream Coaches</a>,</em> a vehicle operated by plaintiff collided with a bus owned by one of the defendants. Plaintiff pleaded guilty to the traffic offense of driving or operating a motor vehicle in an unsafe manner but still sued the bus owner and driver. The Supreme Court granted defendants motion for summary judgment and plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Division, Second Department reversed, citing the general rule regarding a defendant’s summary judgment burden and finding that defendants had “failed to establish, prima facie, that they were free from fault in the happening of the accident.” In so holding, the court observed that the defendants had submitted conflicting accounts of how the accident happened and failed to eliminate triable issues of fact as to their fault. The Court also held that the fact that the plaintiff pleaded guilty to a traffic offense did not conclusively establish that she was negligent and that a person who pleads guilty to a traffic offense is permitted to explain the reasons for the plea to a jury.

The <em>Charles</em> case serves as a reminder that summary judgment is not appropriate where evidence of a defendant’s fault exists, and that care should be taken to avoid submitting conflicting evidence in connection with such a motion.

Thank you to Rebecca Pasternak for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="mailto:agibbs@wcmlaw.com">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.

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