New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

PACE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-014-504, Claim No. 94807


Defendant found liable in connection with rear end automobile collision.

Case Information

JOSEPH L. PACE, JR., JOELLE L. PACE, infant by her father natural guardian, JOSEPH L. PACE, JR., Individually, CHRISTINE HERBERT, infant by her mother natural guardian, DIANNE HERBERT and DIANNE HERBERT, individually The claims of four other named claimants have been discontinued.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :
The claims of four other named claimants have been discontinued.
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

S. Michael Nadel
Claimant's attorney:
Mark J. Rayo

Stockschlaeder, McDonald & Sules
By Marie Costello InserraFor Joseph L. Pace, Jr., on the Counterclaim
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy Michael Rizzo, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 12, 2003
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This claim involves a collision between two vehicles, one of which was being driven by an employee of the defendant. The defendant's vehicle, a van, was behind the claimant's[1]
car as both crossed the Verrazano Bridge heading toward Brooklyn. Both vehicles exited the bridge onto a ramp leading to the Belt Parkway.
According to the claimant, as his vehicle rounded a curve on the ramp, he noticed the illuminated brake lights of vehicles ahead of him, at which point he gradually stopped his car. As he stopped, he noticed an accident scene ahead. Ten to twenty seconds after he had stopped, the defendant's vehicle struck the claimant's vehicle in the rear.

According to the defendant's driver, as he rounded the curve in the ramp, he was behind the claimant by two car lengths when the claimant's car suddenly stopped. He applied his brakes, but was unable to avoid hitting the rear of the claimant's car. He said the impact occurred two to three seconds after the claimant's car had stopped.

"It is well settled that a rear-end collision with a stopped vehicle creates a prima facie case of liability with respect to the operator of the moving vehicle, imposing a duty of explanation on the operator to excuse the collision through evidence of a mechanical failure, a sudden stop of the vehicle ahead, an unavoidable skidding on wet pavement, or some other reasonable cause [citations omitted]."
Pace v State of New York, 271 AD2d 419, 420.
The explanation of the defendant's driver at trial appears to be that the claimant stopped suddenly, although the driver also testified that as he applied his brakes the van skidded at first, because the road was wet, and then moved forward as it struck the car.

The defendant seeks to place responsibility on the claimant, relying upon the testimony of its driver that there were no other vehicles in front of the claimant's, so that he had enough room to stop more gradually than he did. The claimant's testimony is to the contrary.

The testimony of the defendant's driver at trial was that he did not lose sight of the claimant's vehicle on the curved exit ramp, that he saw the taillights go on as the claimant applied his brakes, and that he saw the accident scene ahead at the moment the claimant applied his brakes. Taken together these circumstances demonstrate that however sudden the claimant's stop was, the defendant has not rebutted the presumption that it was negligent. Rather, the evidence establishes that the defendant's vehicle was following too closely behind the claimant.
See, Pappas v Opitz, 262 AD2d 471: "The defendant breached his duty to maintain a reasonably safe distance from the plaintiff's vehicle, which he was following, and failed to be aware of the potential hazards presented by traffic conditions, including the stoppage in traffic caused by an accident ahead of the plaintiff [citation omitted]." See, also, Bando-Twomey v Richheimer, 229 AD2d 554; Leal v Wolff, 224 AD2d 392; Barile v Lazzarini, 222 AD2d 635; Young v City of New York, 113 AD2d 833; Silberman v Surrey Cadilac Limousine Serv., 109 AD2d 833; Figueroa v Luna, 281 AD2d 204; Moustapha v Riteway Intl. Removal, 283 AD2d 175.
The defendant has urged that it is shielded from liability on the facts of this case because the driver acted reasonably when confronted with an emergency situation.
See, e.g., Barath v Marron, 255 AD2d 280. But "the emergency doctrine is inapplicable to this routine rear-end traffic accident [citation omitted]." Sass v Ambu Trans., 238 AD2d 570. See also, McCarthy v Miller, 139 AD2d 500.
In accordance with the foregoing the Court finds that the defendant was negligent. The counterclaims are dismissed.

All motions on which the Court may have reserved decision or which were not previously determined are denied.
A conference is scheduled for July 29, 2003 at 9:30 AM for the purpose of setting a date for trial on the issue of damages, including the issue of whether the claimants sustained serious injury, within the meaning of Insurance Law §5102(d).

June 12, 2003
New York, New York
Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]"Claimant" refers to Joseph L. Pace, Jr., the driver of the car. The two infant claimants were passengers in the car; Dianne Herbert's claim is derivative.