Court Affirms Summary Judgment for Plaintiff in Rear-End Collision Case

The Appellate Division, First Department, today affirmed (in Renteria v. Simakov, 2013 NY Slip Op 06071) a grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs, and the denial of summary judgment to defendants, in a case involving a rear-end collision.

Defendant taxi driver Daza hit plaintiff in the rear after plaintiff stopped in the left lane of the FDR drive following a collision with another defendant. This established prima facie that the taxi driver was negligent, which shifted to him the burden to establish a non-negligent explanation for the collision.

The court held that Daza failed to do so:

We reject Patty Taxi and [taxi driver] Daza’s contention that Daza’s testimony shows that he was confronted with an emergency situation that rendered his actions reasonable. Daza testified that he was traveling up an incline at about 35 to 38 miles per hour, that when he reached the top of the incline he saw the two cars stopped in his lane only about 12 feet in front of him, that he was unable to move into the middle lane because of a vehicle traveling there, and that after he slammed on his brakes, his car skidded for five or six seconds before striking plaintiff’s car. Motorists are obligated to drive at a sufficiently safe speed and to maintain sufficient distance from vehicles in front of them to avoid collisions with stopped vehicles, taking into account weather and road conditions. Given that the incline in the FDR Drive, which Daza’s testimony suggests was so steep as to obscure from his sight vehicles more than 12 feet ahead of him, Daza (who moreover admitted to being familiar with that section of the Drive) was traveling too fast to maintain a safe distance from any cars stopped beyond the crest of the incline.

The court also held that Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1202(a)(1)(j) did not apply here. That section provides:

Except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic, or when in compliance with law or the directions of a police officer or official traffic-control device, no person shall[] [s]top, stand or park a vehicle … [o]n a state expressway highway or state interstate route highway, including the entrances thereto and exits therefrom, which are a part thereof, except in an emergency.

The section did not apply because the FDR Drive is not a designated “state expressway highway” or “state interstate route highway” within the meaning of the Vehicle and Traffic Law or the Highway Law.

Finally, the court held that “even if plaintiff was negligent in stopping her car in the left lane of the highway, she merely provided the condition or occasion for the occurrence of the rear-end collision but was not a proximate cause of it.”

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