Rear-Ending Driver Not Liable as a Matter of Law

A recent Second Department decision, Fernandez v. Babylon Mun. Solid Waste, illustrates the circumstances under which a rear-ended plaintiff is not entitled to summary judgment.

Plaintiff’s vehicle was struck in the rear by a vehicle owned by defendant Babylon and driven by defendant Catania. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability, and the trial court granted the motion. The Appellate Division reversed.

“A rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle establishes a prima facie case of negligence on the part of the operator of the rear vehicle, thereby requiring that operator to rebut the inference of negligence by providing a nonnegligent explanation for the collision.”

Defendant did so:

The Supreme Court erred in granting the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability. Although the plaintiff’s affidavit in support of the motion demonstrated that his vehicle was struck in the rear, thus raising an inference of Catania’s negligence, the plaintiff’s submissions, which included a transcript of Catania’s deposition testimony, revealed a triable issue of fact as to whether Catania had a nonnegligent explanation for the collision. Catania testified at his deposition that his vehicle was stopped at a traffic light at a distance of approximately eight feet behind the plaintiff’s vehicle. When the light changed to green, Catania maintained a safe distance between the two vehicles, but the plaintiff came to an abrupt stop for no apparent reason when there was no pedestrian or vehicular traffic in front of it, and the two vehicles collided.

Thus, a triable issue of fact existed, warranting denial of plaintiff’s motion.

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