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Rear-Ending Another Vehicle Doesn’t Always Make an Accident in New York Your Fault…Here’s an Example

You’ve probably heard that, in a rear-end collision, the driver of the rear vehicle is generally presumed to be at fault for the accident because that driver failed to operate his vehicle at a safe distance from the one in front of him. While that is often correct, it is not true 100% of the time. Sometimes, even when you rear-ended someone else, you may still be able to recover damages for your injuries. A recent accident case involving a car, a box truck, and an overpass provides an example of how this can occur.

The car driver was traveling on the Major Deegan Expressway, in what he described as medium traffic, moving at approximately 35 mph. A box truck was in front of him, moving at around the same speed. The truck encountered the Willis Avenue Bridge overpass, which was, apparently, lower than the truck driver realized. The truck hit the overpass and came to a sudden and immediate stop. The car driver slammed on his brakes but could not stop in time, rear-ending the truck.

The car driver sued the driver and the owner of the truck for his injuries. The car driver argued that the truck driver was negligent by hitting the overpass and that his negligence triggered the entire chain of events, including the plaintiff’s injuries.

The truck driver and the owner argued that the car driver was negligent. Theirs was a standard argument in car accident fault determinations:  the accident was a rear-end collision, rear drivers are presumed to be at fault in these accidents absent a non-negligent explanation for rear-ending the front vehicle, and the rear driver did not have a sufficient non-negligent explanation in this case.

The trial court sided with the defendants, concluding that the plaintiff was at fault for not maintaining a safe following distance. The Appellate Division ruled that this was not correct. That court explained that the law recognizes many scenarios in which a front vehicle makes a very sudden stop, but the rear driver is still at fault if he rear-ends the front vehicle. This was not your ordinary sudden stop, though. This was a “a sudden stop by a vehicle on a highway, with normal traffic conditions.” In cases like this, summary judgment in favor of the vehicle making the sudden stop in the middle of the highway is not proper. The court pointed out that New York’s highest court addressed this issue in 2008 and ruled similarly. In that case, a police officer suddenly decelerated on a highway from roughly 40 mph to approximately 1-2 mph in the process of making a turn. That deceleration led to an accident and, according to the court, allowed a jury to find the officer 50% liable because “vehicles could reasonably expect that traffic would continue unimpeded.”

In this driver’s case, he was also reasonably entitled to anticipate that traffic would continue moving forward relatively unimpeded, or at least not come to a sudden and total stop in the middle of the expressway. For that reason, he was allowed to continue pursuing his case.

You were hurt in a car accident, but you were the one who rear-ended another vehicle in the crash. You absolutely have no case, right? Wrong. It is never a good idea simply to assume that you have no right of recovery. Talk to knowledgeable counsel first. The experienced Queens car accident attorneys at Newman, Anzalone & Newman have been representing injured people in a wide spectrum of vehicle accident cases for many years and can help you make an informed decision about your case. To schedule a free consultation with one of our qualified attorneys, contact us toll-free at 718-896-2700 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Queens Passengers Rear-Ended at a Traffic Light Win Car Accident Appeal on the Issue of Liability, New York Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, Nov. 4, 2016

Just Because You Didn’t Have the Right of Way Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Win Your New York Accident Case, New York Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, Sept. 6, 2016

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