Rear-End Car Accident Plaintiff Entitled to Summary Judgment; “Sun Glare” Was Insufficient Explanation for Accident

In Rodriguez v. Beal, 2021 NY Slip Op 01220 (App. Div. 1st Dept. Feb. 25, 2021), the court unanimously affirmed the lower court’s order granting plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to liability.

In personal injury cases, particularly car accident cases, it is relatively rare for a plaintiff (the party claiming that they were the victim of others’ negligence) to be awarded summary judgment. “Summary judgment” is a procedure that courts may use to resolve a case as a matter of law, where there is no “genuine” dispute about the “material” facts. If there is such a dispute, a factfinder (e.g., a jury) will assess the evidence and determine which facts to believe. (This is, of course, a gross oversimplification.)

However, one recurring situation where a car accident plaintiff may be awarded summary judgment is one in which they were struck from behind (a so-called “rear end” case). The reason is, generally, that it would be rare for someone who strikes another in the rear with their vehicle not to be negligent.

The Rodriguez v. Beal decision is one example of this. From the decision:

It is undisputed that plaintiff was loading garbage into the rear of a garbage truck stopped on the side of the road when the front corner of defendant driver’s vehicle struck the rear corner of the truck and plaintiff. It is well settled that a rear-end collision with a stopped vehicle creates a presumption that the operator of the moving vehicle was negligent, so that an injured plaintiff “is entitled to summary judgment on liability unless the driver of the second vehicle provides a non-negligent explanation for the collision” (Agramonte v City of New York, 288 AD2d 75, 76 [1st Dept 2001]). Defendant’s explanation, that he was suddenly blinded by the glare of the sun rising in the east as he was driving in that direction, was insufficient to raise a non-negligent explanation for the rear-end collision under the circumstances (id. at 76; see also Johnson v Phillips, 261 AD2d 269, 269-272 [1st Dept 1999]). Although sun glare may contribute to an emergency situation, the ordinary circumstances of the sun rising while a driver is heading east do not “constitute[] a qualifying emergency” (Lifson v City of Syracuse, 17 NY3d 492, 498 [2011]) The fact that the garbage truck was partly protruding into the driving lane “merely furnished [] the occasion for [an accident]” when defendant driver was “temporarily blinded” by sun glare[.]

This, of course, does not mean that a driver who claims they were “temporarily blinded” by sun glare will automatically be liable. Every case is different, and there may be situation where such facts do constitute a “non-negligent explanation” for a rear-end collision.

Share This: