Court Awards Summary Judgment to Rear-Ended Car in Three-Car Accident

In Naheem v. Y. Ron Taxi, a three-car accident case, the court awarded summary judgment to the driver and owner of the lead car, which was struck from behind.

To simplify the facts, the accident allegedly proceeded as follows, with Car 1 striking Car 2 and propelling it into Car 3:

CAR 1 (Rasheed) —–> CAR 2 (Singh/Naheem) —–>CAR 3 (Husband).

The court summarized the accident as follows:

[T]he vehicle operated by Husband and owned by Jenkins was stopped in the right lane of the entrance ramp to the Long Island Expressway due to a flat tire when it was allegedly struck in the rear by a vehicle driven by co-defendant [Singh]. Plaintiff [Naheem] was a passenger in the Singh vehicle.

Husband testified that she was forced to pull over to the right lane because of a flat tire. Husband also testified that there was no emergency lane or shoulder for her to safely move into. Husband also testified that she put her hazard lights on. Husband also testified that she was stopped for approximately five minutes before getting struck in the rear and that during the five minutes leading up to the accident she observed traffic moving passed her vehicle on the right.

Naeem testified that Singh was stopped at the time of the accident and, while stopped, a taxi struck Singh in the rear, the force of which pushed the Singh vehicle into the rear of the Husband vehicle. Naeem also testified that after the accident Singh left the scene of the accident before the police could arrive.

Defendant [Rasheed] testified at his deposition that he was entering the entrance ramp when he first saw the Singh vehicle five lengths ahead. Rasheed claims that he immediately applied his brakes and noticed that the Singh vehicle was backing up. Rasheed contends that the Singh vehicle then backed up and struck the front of his taxi. Rasheed states that he did not see any contact between the Singh and the Husband vehicles.

Under these circumstances, the court held that Husband, the driver of the lead car, was entitled to summary judgment of non-liability on their part.

Initially, the court cited the law regarding the allocation of fault (and the application of the procedural expedient of summary judgment) in a rear-end collision:

A rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle creates a prima facie case of negligence with respect to the operator of the moving vehicle and imposes a duty on that operator to rebut the inference of negligence by providing a non-negligent explanation for the collision. A driver of a vehicle approaching another vehicle from the rear is required to maintain a reasonably safe distance and rate of speed under the prevailing conditions to avoid colliding with the other vehicle. If the driver of the offending vehicle cannot provide a non-negligent excuse to rebut the inference of negligence, then the driver of the lead vehicle may be awarded summary judgment on the issue of liability. Any conclusory allegations brought up by the defendant do not raise a triable issue of fact and are insufficient to rebut the inference of negligence against him.  If there is any conflict at all in the evidence then the plaintiff will not be entitled to summary judgment.

Applying this standard, the court held that defendants met their initial burden through deposition testimony ”

which established that Husband was stopped prior to being struck in the rear. It is well established, that summary judgment should be granted in a rear-end collision to a car that was lawfully stopped. Husband presented sufficient evidence, in the form of her deposition testimony, to meet her prima facie burden by showing that her vehicle was lawfully stopped prior to the collision.

The parties opposing summary judgment argued “that there are issues of fact as to whether Husband’s actions, coming to a complete stop in a moving lane of traffic, constitutes contributory negligence.”

However, “[a]lthough Husband’s vehicle was stopped in a moving lane of traffic, Husband established that this was due to mechanical failure and not the result of any fault on her part.”

In addition, the parties conceded that the weather was clear and that the roads were dry.  The court found that this case was analogous to Vespe v. Kazi, in which the court held that it was sufficient for the moving party to submit evidence that the vehicle was stopped “with no other place to go, due to the mechanical failure of his vehicle.”

Since Husband “testified that she had a flat tire and that there was no emergency lane or shoulder for her to park her vehicle … the sole proximate cause of the accident was the negligent failure of Rasheed and Singh to see what there was to be seen and to maintain a safe distance behind the Husband vehicle.”

The court also rejected defendants’ attempt to raise an issue of fact as to whether Husband had her hazard lights on, finding that the testimony offered to rebut this proposition was insufficient:

Husband testified that as soon as her vehicle became disabled she put her hazard lights on. Naeem testified that she did not recall if Husband’s lights were on. Rasheed was asked, at his deposition, whether there were any lights illuminated on the Husband vehicle and Rasheed responded “[n]o, I did not see any lights.” However, Rasheed’s version of events includes a contention that the Singh vehicle, which was the vehicle immediately behind the Husband vehicle, caused the accident by backing up. Clearly, Rasheed’s attention while entering the entrance ramp would have been on the car backing up into him and not the lights on Husband’s vehicle. In addition, Rasheed’s testimony is vague in that he does not affirmatively state that he saw Husband’s vehicle prior to the accident and that the lights were not on. It is possible to construe Rasheed’s statement to mean that he did not see, one way or the other, whether Husband’s hazard lights were illuminated. Accordingly, the testimony of Rasheed and Naeem failed to adequately rebut Husband’s contention that her hazard lights were illuminated.

The court therefore granted Jenkins’ and Husband’s motion for summary judgment, absolving them of liability for the accident.

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