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Is Getting The Right Panel Key to Appeal In NY's First Department ?

May 17, 2012

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In New York's Appellate Division, First Department, forget precedent, the key is getting the right Court panel. In Maniscalco v. New York City Transit Auth., the plaintiff, a pedestrian, was struck by the defendant's side-view mirror, as she crossed the street within the crosswalk with the light in her favor. The plaintiff moved for and was granted summary judgment by the Supreme Court.

On appeal, the defendant did not challenge the Supreme Court's finding that he was negligent and that his negligent was the substantial cause of the accident. Rather, he contended that questions of fact existed as to the plaintiff's comparative negligence, precluding summary judgment.

In 1993, the Court of Appeals, in Thoma v. Ronai, held that a plaintiff is not entitled to summary judgment where there is an issue of fact as to comparative negligence. While this should have resolved the issue once and for all, it did not. In 2010, a panel of judges on the First Department declined to follow it. But just two years later, a different panel of the same court followed Thoma.

After a long look at the mixed precedent on the matter, the Maniscalco Court reversed the Supreme Court, denied plaintiff summary judgment, and decided to follow Thoma. It reasoned that the point of Thoma and its progeny is that, where there is evidence that both the defendant and plaintiff were negligent and that each one's negligence may have been a substantial factor in causing the injury, whether one party's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the injury should not be determined in isolation. Rather, each party’s liability should be considered and determined simultaneously with the material, and overlapping, issue of whether the other party was also culpable.

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Thank you for Gabe Darwick for this post.

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