Define That Term #106
Supreme Court Rejects People v. Goldstein Appeal

Was Illegally Parked Bus a Proximate Cause of the Accident?

Gerrity v. Muthana, 2006 NY Slip Op 03180, is an interesting Fourth Department case in which the Court considered the issue of whether the summary judgment motion of one of the defendants, the owner of an illegally parked bus, was properly granted by the trial court.

In this case, the plaintiff was injured when a car driven by one of the defendants ran a red light and struck the bus that the plaintiff was driving, thus causing the bus to collide with yet another bus that had been illegally parked in a "No Standing" area.  It was undisputed the plaintiff's injuries were cause by the collision with the second bus, rather than the initial collision with the car that ran the red light.

The Fourth Department upheld the trial court's ruling and held that the lower court had properly granted summary judgment in favor of the owner of the illegally parked bus: 

Defendant met its burden on the motion by establishing as a matter of law that the sole proximate cause of the accident was Muthana's failure to stop at the red light, and plaintiffs failed to raise an issue of fact (see generally Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562). The location of defendant's bus " merely furnished the condition or occasion for the occurrence of the event' and was not one of its causes" (Mendrykowski v New York Tel. Co., 2 AD3d 1410, 1410).

I'm not entirely convinced by the majority's logic and find the dissent's argument to be more compelling.  The dissent concluded that the incident was a "chain reaction" accident that consisted of two separate collisions and stated that:

"It has been held in a variety of factual circumstances that owners of improperly parked cars may be held liable to plaintiffs injured by negligent drivers of other vehicles, depending on the determinations by the trier of fact of the issues of foreseeability and proximate cause unique to the particular case" (O'Connor v Pecoraro, 141 AD2d 443, 445, citing, inter alia, Ferrer, 55 NY2d 285). Where, as here, the connection between the parking violations and the happening of the accident is logical and immediate enough to present an issue of fact, the issue is one for the trier of fact and is not properly resolved on a motion for summary judgment (see id.; cf. Dormena v Wallace, 282 AD2d 425, 427).

Given that there is a viable argument that the plaintiff's injuries would not have occurred but for the illegally parked bus, I think that there is an issue of fact.  A reasonable fact-finder could determine that the plaintiff's injuries were foreseeable and proximately caused by the illegally parked bus. 

Had the bus been parked legally, it would have been a different story.  But, that's not the case here.  It's hard for me to stomach the fact that the plaintiff appears to now have no recourse for his injuries.

Comments

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Eddie

"Had the bus been parked legally, perhaps the argument would be weakened somewhat."

Huh? Perhaps I misread your post but are you actually saying that even if the bus was *legally* parked the pltf in this case might still have a case against the bus company? How is that possible?

"It's hard for me to stomach the fact that the plaintiff appears to now have no recourse for his injuries."

He does have a recourse for his injuries, against the driver of the car that ran the red light and the one who caused the accident by running said light. The fact that pltf wasn't injured in the initial impact doesn't change this. Pltf also has two deep pockets still in the case in the form of the City of Buffalo and Erie County.

With two dissents I can see the Court of Appeals taking a look at this one.

NBlack

Eddie,

Perhaps I should have said that the argument would certainly be weakened if the bus was parked legally. I may have phrased that in an unclear manner, but was simply recognizing that the fact that the bus was illegally parked was the linchpin of the argument. I've changed my post accordingly, since you raise a good point.

Obviously a car (or bus) parked legally bears no fault in the event that another car crashes into it. I was thinking out loud, as I tend to do when dashing off a quick post to my blog. Sometimes my thought processes aren't all that they could be--especially when I post under less than ideal conditions. Thanks for pointing that out.

As for your second comment, I'm not so sure that I agree. Negligence requires proof that a breach of a duty *caused* an injury. The Court concluded (and the dissent reiterated this) that the plaintiff's injuries were not caused by the first impact.

It appears that the only defendant left is the driver of the car that ran the red light (see below), and in my opinion, there is arguably a causation issue, or, at least, in the eyes of a jury there might be. I could see a jury concluding that since the second impact--into the illegally parked bus--caused the injuries, then the driver of that bus is liable for the injuries, as opposed to the car that caused the first impact, and since that party (the bus) is not a defendant, then there's no recourse available for the plaintiff.

Furthermore, the Complaints against all defendants were dismissed, as is evidenced by this statement at the end of the dissent: "We therefore would reverse the order, deny the motions of defendant and the City and the cross motion of the County and reinstate the amended complaint and cross claims against them and remit the matter to Supreme Court to determine plaintiffs' cross motion."

Who knows how deep the remaining defendant's pocket is? If the plaintiff was fighting to keep the municipal defendants in, my guess is that there may very well be an issue in that regard.

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