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Following the Letter of the Law Does Not Always Negate Responsibility for New York Drivers

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In New York, the driver of a vehicle with the right-of-way is entitled to assume that other drivers will yield in compliance with the Vehicle and Traffic Law but still has a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid a collision with vehicles that fail to yield the right-of-way. As such, drivers must still determine whether it is safe to continue given the conditions.

 

For example, in Rogers v. Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y., Inc., the plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle that was exiting a parking lot, intending to make a left to travel southbound. The operator of a vehicle traveling in the northbound lane stopped to the left of plaintiff’s vehicle and waved the driver of plaintiff’s vehicle on. Plaintiff’s vehicle crossed the northbound lane and was waved on by the driver of another vehicle in the southbound lane that had also stopped. Plaintiff’s vehicle continued over a double yellow line, turning left onto the southbound lane, when it was struck by defendants’ vehicle which had passed the stopped southbound vehicle on the right side. Plaintiff sued the defendant driver and owner Con Ed for injuries in the accident and the Supreme Court denied their motion summary judgment as against the driver and owner of plaintiff’s vehicle.

 

The Second Department affirmed, finding that the defendants failed to establish that the defendant driver was free from fault in the happening of the accident, or that the alleged negligence of the driver of plaintiff’s vehicle was the sole proximate cause of the accident. Specifically, the Court held that the defendants failed to eliminate triable issues of fact as to whether the defendant driver “exercised reasonable care under the conditions presented, including, among other things, whether he should have stopped or at least lowered the rate of speed of his vehicle before attempting to pass the stopped vehicle, regardless of whether he had the right-of-way as compared to [the driver of Plaintiff’s vehicle.” The Court rejected the argument that the defendant driver exercised reasonable care simply because he was traveling at or under the speed limit.

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