Rear-Ended Plaintiff Awarded Summary Judgment in Car Accident Case

The Supreme Court, Nassau County recently held, in Gbajumo v. Mecchella, that the plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment in a rear-end car accident case.

The facts:

[P]laintiff had entered the Long Island Expressway eastbound, and had been traveling in the right lane for about 100 tcct (5 car lengths) when the accident occurred. Defendant testified that: (i) he was traveling at a speed of 55 mph in the center lane; (ii) he saw plaintiff’s vehicle about 40 feet in front of him in the right lane; (iii) intending to move into the right lane, he looked over his right shoulder to check his blind spot for about two seconds; (iv) when he looked back, the accident occurred – his vehicle was halfway into the right lane when the front of his vehicle contacted the rear of plaintiff’s vehicle.

In opposition to plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, defendant argued that there was an issue of fact “regarding whether or not plaintiff was traveling at an unreasonably slow speed, or a speed less than the established minimum speed” in violation of New York Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) § 1181.

VTL § 1181, titled “Minimum speed regulations”, provides:

(a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.

(b) Whenever a minimum speed limit has been established as authorized in [VTL § 1620 or § 1642], no person shall drive at a speed less than such minimum speed limit except when entering upon or preparing to exit from the highway upon which such a minimum speed limit has been established, when preparing to stop, or when necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.

Defendant argued that the established minimum speed on the Long Island Expressway is 40 miles per hour, and that plaintiff’s deposition testimony created an issue of fact as to whether she was traveling too slowly. Specifically, defendant cited plaintiff’s testimony that when she was on the ramp she was traveling “about 30” and that once she got on the highway her speed was “about maybe 35, maybe 40, gradually going up”.

The court held that there was no evidence supporting plaintiff’s violation of VTL 1181(a), in light of defendant’s testimony that “at the moment of impact, plaintiff was traveling at the same speed as he was.”

It then held that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff violated VTL 1181(b):

With respect to VTL §1181(b), plaintiff may have been exempt from the
requirement to travel at the established minimum speed to the extent that she had just entered the highway and was in the process of accelerating when the accident occurred. Even assuming, however, that plaintiffs entry to the highway was complete and that she was required to have reached a minimum speed of 40 mph, the evidence does not create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether or not plaintiff was driving below the minimum speed. Plaintiff testified that she was traveling at about 35 or 40 mph when she first saw defendant’s vehicle, that she was accelerating, and that the accident occurred 3-4 seconds later. Defendant testified that plaintiff was driving at about the same speed as he was at the time of the accident – about 55 mph. The only inference consistent with both parties’ testimony is that plaintiff was traveling at least 40 mph at the time of the accident.

Finally, even assuming that plaintiff did not yet reach 40 mph,

there is no evidence that plaintiffs speed contributed to causing the accident. Defendant admits that he looked over his right shoulder, away from the direction in which his vehicle was traveling, and that when he looked back, his vehicle had entered plaintiff’s lane and had struck plaintiff’s vehicle in the rear. The only permissible inference is that the accident was caused entirely by defendant’s negligence – in entering plaintiffs lane at full speed while looking in the opposite direction.

The court concluded that since there was “no evidence of comparative fault on the part of plaintiff, plaintiff is entitled to a determination of defendant’s liability as a matter of law.”

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