This was originally published on the SGR Blog.
Court Reviews Conflicting Affidavits and Analyzes Burden of Proof
Rear end automobile collision claims would seemingly raise quintessential questions of fact for trial—especially where the two drivers submit clearly conflicting and controverting affidavits about the facts and circumstances of the crash. But, as a recent decision illustrates, that is not always the case.
Stephanie Wilms was involved in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on March 2, 2018 at approximately 5:35 p.m. A vehicle owned by ADT Security Services, Inc. and Protection 1 Alarm Monitoring, Inc., and operated by Corteze C. Remy Jr., struck the rear of her car on Joshua’s Path at or near its intersection with Central Avenue, in Hauppauge, New York. Wilms contended that her vehicle was stopped at a stop sign when the Remy-driven vehicle struck the rear of her car. Wilms sought to recover for serious physical injuries that she claimed she sustained as a result of the accident.
Wilms moved for partial summary judgment in her favor on the issue of liability on the grounds that no triable issue of fact existed and that she was entitled to judgment in her favor as a matter of law. In support of her motion, Wilms offered the pleadings, a certified copy of the police accident report, and her own affidavit.
In her affidavit, Wilms averred that, prior to the accident, she was traveling northbound on Joshua’s Path. She was stopped at the stop sign on Joshua’s Path at its intersection with Central Avenue when Remy’s vehicle struck her vehicle in the rear. In support of her motion, Wilms proffered a certified copy of the form MV-104A Police Accident Report, which recited Remy’s admission that “while attempting to stop for traffic [Remy’s vehicle] did strike [the rear of] [Wilms’vehicle].” The police report was certified as a true and accurate copy. The police officer who prepared the report was acting within the scope of his duty in recording the statement. Thus, the statement was an admission of a party, and was admissible on the issue of liability.
A rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle creates a prima facie case of liability regarding the operator of the moving vehicle. It imposes a duty of explanation on the operator of the moving vehicle to excuse the collision by providing a non-negligent explanation, such as a mechanical failure, a sudden stop of the vehicle ahead, or unavoidable skidding on a wet pavement or some other reasonable excuse.
Wilms established a prima facie case of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that she was stopped when Remy’s vehicle struck her vehicle in the rear. The burden then shifted to ADT/Protection/Remy to raise a triable issue of fact.
Remy submitted an affidavit in which he stated that he was stopped at a stop sign and Wilms’s vehicle was stopped in front of him. As Remy’s vehicle moved forward from the stop sign and into the intersection, Remy let his foot off the brake and began to move forward when Wilms slammed on her brakes suddenly and without warning and came to a sudden stop. Remy immediately hit his brakes, but was not able to avoid hitting Wilms’ vehicle because of the suddenness of her stop combined with the wet and slippery condition of the roadway. Remy “believe[d] that [Wilms] stopped suddenly because [Remy] observed several vehicles of oncoming cross traffic in the intersection [Wilms] was entering.” He contended that he was not driving in a negligent manner and was at a safe and reasonable distance and driving at a safe and reasonable speed prior to the accident.
In a rear-end collision, allegations of a sudden stop without more are insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Remy conceded that he himself observed the same cross traffic that, he contended, caused Wilms to bring her vehicle to a stop. Remy failed to raise any triable issue of fact with respect to liability sufficient to defeat Wilms’ motion.
The fact that Remy was negligent as a matter of law for rear-ending Wilms’ did not mean that she was necessarily free of negligence. But Wilms did not bear the double-burden of establishing a prima facie case of Remy’s liability and the absence of her own comparative fault in order to be entitled to partial summary judgment on the issue of liability.
Wilms’ motion for partial summary judgment in her favor on the issue of liability was granted.