Rear End Collisions

It is well established that a rear end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle creates a prima facie case of liability with respect to the operator of the moving vehicle, imposing a duty of explanation on its operator. The operator is required to rebut the inference of negligence created by the unexplained rear end collision. If the operator cannot come forward with any evidence to rebut the inference of negligence, the plaintiff may properly be awarded judgment as a matter of law. Barile v. Lazzarini, 222 A.D.2d 635, 635 N.Y.S.2d 694 (2nd Dept., 1995)

A driver is expected to drive at a sufficiently safe speed and to maintain enough distance between himself and cars ahead of him so as to avoid a rear-end collision, taking into account the weather and road conditions. In other words, when a driver approaches another vehicle from the rear, he is bound to maintain a reasonably safe rate of speed, maintain control of his vehicle, and use reasonable care to avoid colliding with the other vehicle.

Defendant driver is under a duty to maintain a safe distance between the two vehicles, his failure to do so in the absence of an adequate non-negligent explanation continues negligence as a matter of law. Barile, supra and Vehicle and Traffic Law §1129(a) [the driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.] See also, New York Pattern Jury Instructions, §2:82A.

When the defendant operator of a motor vehicle fails to come forward with any evidence to rebut the inference of negligence, the driver of the lead vehicle may properly be awarded summary judgment as a matter of law. In Shamah v. Richmond County Ambulance Service, Inc., 279 A.D.2d 564, 719 N.Y.S.2d 287 (2nd Dept., 2001) the Appellate Division stated:

“It is well settled that a rear end collision with a stopped vehicle establishes a prima facie case of negligence on the part of the driver of the moving vehicle, requiring the operator of the vehicle to come forward with a non-negligent explanation of the accident. Conclusory assertions of a sudden and unexpected stop are insufficient to rebut the inference of negligence. Moreover, vehicle stops which are foreseeable under the prevailing traffic conditions, even if sudden and frequent, must be anticipated by the driver who follows, since he or she is under a duty to maintain a safe distance between his or her car and the car ahead.”

See further, Harrington v. Kern, 52 A.D.3d 473, 849 N.Y.S.2d 480 (2nd Dept., 2008), where the Court opined:

“In opposition, the defendant failed to raise a triable issue of fact. At his deposition, the defendant testified that there was stop and go traffic near the scene of the accident. He further testified that he observed the plaintiff’s vehicle come to a normal stop in normal stop and go traffic a few seconds before impact. The defendant applied his brakes when he was 3 to 5 feet behind the plaintiff’s vehicle and was unable to come to a complete stop behind her. As an explanation for his failure to come to a complete stop, he stated, It’s my opinion that there was a short stop. Since the defendant acknowledged that there was stop and go traffic, he cannot claim that plaintiff’s stop was unanticipated. He admitted that he saw the plaintiff’s vehicle come to a stop a few seconds before impact. His opinion that the plaintiff made a short stop was insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact. The defendant was obligated to take appropriate precautions, including maintaining a safe distance.”

See also, Bowen v. Farrell, 2016 NY Slip. Op 04900 (2nd Dept., 6-22-2016) ("A rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle establishes a prima facie case of negligence on the part of the operator of the rear vehicle, requiring that operator to come forward with evidence of a nonnegligent explanation for the collision in order to rebut the inference of negligence. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability, a plaintiff must establish, prima facie, not only that the opposing party was negligent, but also that the plaintiff was free from comparative fault. Here, in support of his motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability, the plaintiff relied on his own deposition testimony and the deposition testimony of the defendant. Although the parties provided conflicting testimony as to the facts surrounding the accident, under either version of the accident, the defendant's negligence in the operation of his vehicle was the sole proximate cause of the accident. Accordingly, the plaintiff made a prima facie showing of his entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability. In opposition, the defendant failed to raise a triable issue of fact.")

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