Affirmation in Opposition 4
Memorandum of Law (In Opposition) 5
This is a claim for wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering arising
from a two car collision, which occurred on December 18, 1991. Claimant's
decedent, his wife Lisa M. Johnson, was a backseat passenger in one of the
vehicles involved in that collision, which was operated by Shannon T. Hubiak.
On the date of the accident, the Hubiak vehicle was traveling north on New York
State Route 8 in the Town of Paris, Oneida County. As Mr. Hubiak descended a
hill, he lost control of his vehicle, which then slid into the southbound lane
where it collided with a southbound vehicle. Both Mr. Hubiak and Mrs. Johnson
died as a result of the collision. This claim was subsequently filed with the
Court on December 4, 1992.
Additionally, a claim asserting wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering
was also commenced by Antoinette S. Hubiak, individually and as Administratrix
of the Estate of Shannon Thomas Hubiak. By a decision filed May 27, 1998, my
esteemed colleague, Hon. Thomas J. McNamara, found the State 100% liable for the
death of Mr. Hubiak.
Prior to Judge McNamara's decision in the Hubiak claim, a stipulation of
discontinuance in this claim (Johnson), signed by counsel for both parties, had
been filed with the Court on June 9, 1997. After Judge McNamara's decision in
the Hubiak claim, claimant brought a motion to reinstate his claim, and by a
decision and order filed December 28, 1999, this Court reinstated the
Claimant, asserting the doctrine of
collateral estoppel, now brings this motion seeking an order granting him
summary judgment on the issue of liability, based upon the prior finding of
liability against the State in the Hubiak claim. The State contends that the
doctrine of collateral estoppel does not apply to the facts of this claim, and
also contends that there exists other triable issues of fact.
Summary judgment is the procedural equivalent of a trial (Andre v
Pomeroy, 35 NY2d 361) and should be granted only when it has been
established that there is no triable issue (Moskowitz v Garlock, 23 AD2d
943). The role of the Court, therefore, on a motion for summary judgment is not
to resolve material issues of fact, but instead is to determine whether any such
issues exist (Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395).
If such issues exist, the motion for summary judgment must be denied. Only the
existence of a material issue of fact, however, and not one based on conclusory
or irrelevant allegations, will be sufficient to defeat a motion for summary
judgment (Rotuba Extruders v Ceppos, 46 NY2d 223).
In order to invoke the doctrine of collateral estoppel, claimant must establish
that (1) the identical issue in the pending action was necessarily decided in
the prior action, and (2) the party against whom collateral estoppel is being
asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in question
(Schwartz v Public Administrator of the County of Bronx, 24 NY2d 65;
Kaufman v Lilly and Co., 65 NY2d 449).
The decisive issue in both Hubiak and in this claim is whether the injuries and
damages resulting from the collision on Route 8 were caused, in whole or in
part, by the negligent acts, omissions and/or conduct of the State. The damages
in both cases arose from the same incident, and both decedents were traveling in
the same vehicle. In Hubiak, Judge McNamara found the State 100% liable for the
accident which claimed the lives of Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Hubiak because of the
State's failure to coordinate salting and plowing schedules. Significantly,
Judge McNamara found the State 100% responsible in the Hubiak claim, and did not
contribute any comparative fault to Mr. Hubiak, the operator of that vehicle.
Furthermore, it is undisputed that Lisa Johnson was a backseat passenger in the
Hubiak vehicle at the time this accident occurred.
The Court also finds that the State had a full and fair opportunity to litigate
the issue of liability in the Hubiak claim. The State contends that the Court
should consider such factors as the potential availability of new evidence, the
possibility that Lisa Johnson may have in some way contributed to the accident,
and that the State could not foresee the possibility of future litigation on
this claim at the time of the Hubiak trial, and that these factors mitigate
against the application of collateral estoppel in this claim.
The State, however, has not provided the Court with any indication that new
evidence would be introduced at the trial of this claim, nor is there any
indication whatsoever that Lisa Johnson in any way contributed to the accident.
While it is true that the State had no basis to believe that it would bear
responsibility in the death of Lisa Johnson (since her claim had been
discontinued prior to the trial of the Hubiak claim), and even though damages in
this claim could be substantial, the Court notes that the damages awarded by
Judge McNamara in the Hubiak claim were also substantial. Under the
circumstances of the Hubiak claim, the State had a full and fair opportunity to
contest the issue of liability, and most certainly provided a full and vigorous
defense to that claim.
It was found in the Hubiak case that the State breached its duty to maintain
Route 8 in a reasonably safe condition. It stands to reason that if the State
owes a duty to the driver of a vehicle, it would in turn owe a duty to any and
all passengers of that vehicle. Since the State has already been found liable
in causing the accident there is no legitimate reason to reargue that issue.
Therefore, for all of the aforementioned reasons, summary judgment is hereby
granted. The Court therefore finds that not only was the identical issue of
liability determined in the Hubiak claim, which is the subject of this claim,
but also that the State had a full and fair opportunity to litigate this issue
in that claim. Accordingly, the Court finds that collateral estoppel is
applicable in the instant claim on the issue of liability.
The State also contends that notwithstanding the issue of collateral estoppel,
other triable issues of fact exist which would make summary judgment in this
claim improper. The Court finds that any such issues relate solely to the
question of damages, to be determined at a later date.
Accordingly, claimant's motion to amend the pleadings in this claim so as to
assert the doctrine of collateral estoppel is granted, and summary judgment on
the issue of liability finding the State fully liable, is hereby granted.
Therefore, it is
ORDERED, that Motion No. M-61758 is GRANTED, and it is further
ORDERED, that the Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of the claimant
in accordance with this decision and order. A trial limited to the issue of
damages will be scheduled as soon as reasonably practicable.