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No Summary Judgment Where a Plaintiff Bicyclist’s Failure to Stop Before Crossing the Street is a Question of Fact

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Generally, a plaintiff in a New York negligence action can move for summary judgment on the issue of liability by establishing that the defendant breached a duty owed to the plaintiff and that the defendant’s negligence proximately caused the injuries alleged. When a plaintiff can establish a violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, negligence is established as a matter of law. For example, Vehicle and Traffic Law §1234(c) provides that any person operating a bicycle who is entering the roadway from a private road, driveway, alley or curb, shall come to a full stop before entering the roadway. This section is not applicable where the bicycle operator crosses the roadway in a marked crosswalk after leaving the sidewalk through a curb out.


The Appellate Division, Second Department recently addressed these issues in Jennifer Hart v. Catherine Chang. In that case, plaintiff’s son was injured when his bike collided with defendant’s vehicle at an intersection. The son was traveling northbound on the sidewalk while the defendant was traveling westbound, and the collision occurred when the son turned right from the sidewalk to travel east while the defendant turned left to travel south.


The Second Department affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to liability, observing that the son testified at deposition that while riding his bicycle on the sidewalk he began to turn right when he saw there was a green light for vehicles. He also stated that although he was in the crosswalk when the accident happened, he failed to mention whether he stopped before making the turn. The defendant testified that she first observed the young man 10 to 15 feet south of the crosswalk immediately after the collision. The Court found that such conflicting testimony raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the son’s action in failing to stop before entering the roadway pursuant to VTL §1234(c) was the sole proximate cause of the collision.


The Hart decision confirms the general rules that: 1) a party cannot obtain summary judgment on the issue of liability in New York where there is conflicting testimony as to how an accident occurred; and 2) bike operators must come to a stop before entering a roadway or be subject to liability for a resulting accident (or comparative liability in the case of a plaintiff).   


Thank you to Gabriella Scarmato for her contribution to this post. Please contact Andrew Gibbs with any questions.


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