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Motor Vehicle Case Dismissed When Court Finds no Question of Fact of Liability (NY)

August 2, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">A New York Appellate Court recently granted summary judgment to a defendant  in a lawsuit arising from a classic “he said, she said” motor vehicle accident.  In the recent Decision by the Appellate Division, the First Department in<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Castro-v.-Hatim.pdf">Castro v. Hatim</a></em>, granted a defendant driver summary judgment, finding that plaintiff’s version of the accident was contradictory to all other evidence before the court, including crucial photographs from the accident scene.  Specifically, photographic evidence showed that plaintiff's SUV struck the rear of defendants' tractor-trailer as plaintiff was attempting to merge into defendants' truck's lane of traffic. The court went on to find that plaintiff’s operation of her vehicle was negligence per se, as a result of violating her "duty not to enter a lane of moving traffic until it was safe to do so".</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The case involved two vehicles that made contact on the busy Bruckner Expressway in New York City.  The points of contact were plaintiff’s front right and the rear of the tractor trailer.  The parties agreed that the accident occurred while plaintiff was merging left.  The photographs clearly demonstrate that the front passenger side of plaintiff's SUV struck the driver's side rear bumper of defendants' truck, which was wholly within its travel lane while plaintiff was moving her SUV left into the adjacent lane, so the court found that plaintiff moved her SUV into the truck's lane at a time when she could not do so with safety.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The decision includes a well-reasoned dissent, criticizing the majority’s finding that the plaintiff’s testimony that she was at a standstill when the accident occurred was “completely implausible”.  The majority opinion, in resolving the “he said, she said” actual pattern explicitly discounted the plaintiff's testimony where the plaintiff has "relied solely on [her] own testimony, uncorroborated by any other witnesses or evidence," and her testimony belied "common sense". The dissent expressed that the majority erred in determining plaintiff's actions as lacking exercise of due care and defying common sense is to clearly invade the province of the jury by assuming the testimony of the witness to be untrue.  The dissent stated that the disputed facts regarding the speed, position, and location of the vehicles at the time of the impact raised triable issues of fact as to the parties' comparable fault in the happening of the accident, and would have denied summary judgment.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">It’s a rare win for the defense in a motor vehicle case and a reminder how accident scene photos can be a powerful weapon for the defense.  Even in cases where the a question of fact might seem the obvious outcome, defense attorneys should always consider the advantages of dispositive motions.</p>
Thanks to Vincent Terrasi for his contribution to this post. Please email <a href="mailto:VPinto@wcmlaw.com">Vito A. Pinto</a> with any questions.

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