Wrong-Way Injured Bicyclist May Continue Case Against Bus Company

In Espiritu v. Shuttle Express Coach, Inc., a bus-bicycle accident case, the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed summary judgment for the defendant bus company.

Here are the facts:

[P]laintiff was riding his bicycle south on Adams Street in Brooklyn when he was struck on the left side by a private shuttle bus owned by the defendant Shuttle Express Coach, Inc., and operated by the defendant Michael A. Wright. The shuttle bus was traveling west on York Street at the time of the collision. It is undisputed that at the subject intersection, York Street was a one-way street running [west], Adams Street was a one-way street running [north], and the only traffic control device was a stop sign for north-bound traffic on Adams Street. It is also undisputed that the third-party defendant, 85 Adams Street, LLC, had erected a fence around construction on the northeast corner of the intersection, and the fence extended onto both York Street and Adams Street. At their respective depositions, both the plaintiff and Wright testified that the fence occupied a substantial portion of York Street and prevented each of them from being able to see the intersection clearly before entering it. The Supreme Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and the third-party defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the third-party complaint on the ground that the plaintiff’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of the accident.

The operative sections of the New York Vehicle & Traffic Law (VTL) are VTL § 1231 and § 1127(a).

VTL § 1231 provides:

Every person riding a bicycle or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions of this title which by their nature can have no application.

VTL § 1127(a), in turn, provides: “Upon a roadway designated and signposted for one-way traffic a vehicle shall be driven only in the direction designated.”

The court held that, notwithstanding that plaintiff bicyclist was traveling the wrong way down a one-way street, defendants were not entitled to judgment as a matter of law:

Although the plaintiff concedes that he was negligent as a matter of law by traveling the wrong way on Adams Street in violation of [VTL] § 1127(a) …, there can be more than one proximate cause of an accident, and the proponent of a motion for summary judgment has the burden of establishing freedom from comparative fault as a matter of law.

Here, the defendants failed to make a prima facie showing as a matter of law that Wright was free from any comparative fault in the happening of the accident. There are triable issues of fact as to whether Wright failed to see what was there to be seen through the proper use of his senses …, failed to exercise due care to avoid the collision (see [VTL] § 1146[a] …, or was traveling at a reasonable and prudent speed as he approached the intersection in light of the conditions then present (see [VTL] § 1180).

The court thus concluded that the trial court should have denied the defendants’ motion, regardless of the sufficiency of plaintiff’s opposition papers.

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