A recent decision was issued by a New York Appellate Court involving a rear – end car crash is making the rounds in legal circles. Why? The Car Crash Attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy.
In the case of Oluwatayo v. Dulinayan, et al., the issue presented before the appellate court was whether a victim who was rear-ended in a motor vehicle accident was entitled to summary judgment on liability against any or all of the defendant drivers.
Summary judgment is a legal remedy asking a court to decide an issue in a case instead of a jury because the facts weigh so far in favor of one party. The plaintiff appealed from a decision by a Supreme Court Judge in Bronx County which denied plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability. A Rear-End Crash and there was a question of whether the defendant was at fault? The lower court thought so. The Appellate Court had other ideas. They granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment but did so in a rather unusual way. They held that there no culpable conduct by plaintiff on the issue of liability. This conclusion means that the plaintiff was without fault for the collision. The appellate court also dismissed defendants’ affirmative defenses of comparative negligence as against the plaintiff. Again, this means that the issue of whether plaintiff was at fault has been decided. So what is left to decide? What is the practical implication of this decision?
This action arose out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred when the plaintiff was struck in the rear by the defendant Gutierrez. The plaintiff argued that he met his burden of establishing a prima facie case of entitlement to summary judgment on the issue of liability by establishing that both defendant drivers involved in the accident were negligent and that he was “an innocent driver who was rear-ended”. However, the Appellate Court found that it was not that simple and worthy of deeper analysis. One of the defendant drivers, Gutierrez, argued that she was at a full stop when hit in the rear by the other defendant driver, Dulinayan, pushing her forward into the rear of the plaintiff’s vehicle. She took the position that she was blameless and Dulinayan was responsible for the collision. Dulinayan, on the other hand, argued that he struck the rear of Gutierrez’s vehicle only after Gutierrez had already struck the plaintiff, therefore, his conduct did not cause the collision between Gutierrez’s vehicle and the plaintiff’s vehicle. Dulinayan points the finger at Gutierrez and at least blames her for a portion of the damages. This is a classic game of “he-said, she-said.” It was argued by the defendants that the conflicting accounts offered by the defendant drivers created issues of fact about how the crash occurred. Consequently, they argued, the plaintiff was therefore not entitled to summary judgment.
The plaintiff also argued that even though there were conflicting testimony either defendant drivers, this failed to raise an issue of fact because neither defendant’s account places any liability on the plaintiff. Therefore since the plaintiff was an “innocent driver” who was struck in the rear and did not contribute to the happening of the accident, he is entitled to summary judgment against the defendants on the issue of liability.
The Appellate Division, in reaching its decision, discusses the case of Garcia v. Tri-County Ambulette Serv., Inc., 282 A.D.2d 206 (1st Dep’t 2001), in which it appeared as if summary judgment had been granted to the plaintiff, a passenger in a vehicle that was involved in an accident, on the issue of liability. However, in Garcia, the court granted summary judgment to the plaintiff on the issue of her lack of culpable conduct pursuant to CPLR 3212 (g). This section permits a court to limit issues of fact for trial by specifying which facts are not in dispute or are incontrovertible, and such fact shall be deemed established for all purposes in the action. The Appellate Division in Oluwatayo held that there is a “significant distinction between granting a plaintiff summary judgment on her lack of culpable conduct on liability and granting a plaintiff summary judgment on a defendant’s negligence. A grant of partial summary judgment against a defendant on liability in a negligence case is the equivalent of finding that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, the defendant breached that duty by its negligence, and such breach proximately caused plaintiff injury. (Citation omitted). In contrast, a grant of partial summary judgment on the issue of the plaintiff’s lack of fault or culpability is a much narrower finding. Such a finding merely establishes as a matter of law that the plaintiff is free of any negligence, as would be the case of an innocent passenger or driver”.
Based on the facts of the case, the Oluwatayo Court found that the plaintiff has established his lack of culpable conduct as an undisputed innocent driver, which entitles him to summary judgment on lack of fault pursuant to CPLR 3212 (g). However, the plaintiff did not establish entitlement to summary judgment on liability against either defendant driver because of the conflicting and unresolved facts regarding the happening of the accident. Therefore, the order of the trial court judge was modified to grant summary judgment to that extent and to dismiss the defendant’s affirmative defenses of comparative negligence as against the plaintiff. In effect, it seems that this Court did indeed feel that the plaintiff was an “innocent driver” and found a way to grant him summary judgment under the CPLR despite the fact that there were issues of fact regarding how the accident occurred.
This case this case gives victims of rear-end car crashes and their lawyers something to think about. If you are victim of a rear end crash it is in your best interest to have an experienced attorney by your side. Additionally, if you are an attorney representing someone who was a victim in a serious rear end collision you may want to consult with a seasoned trial lawyer who has a history of battling large insurance companies and winning.
The lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy have an impressive record of success in helping serious accident victims. They have recovered nearly $1 billion in verdicts and settlements for their clients. According to The New York Law Journal, the firm has reported more settlements in excess of $1 million than any other firm in New York State over the last 5 years. You can contact them for a free consultation at any time by calling 212-736-5300.