Claimant, a passenger in a motor vehicle driven by Laura LaSala, seeks damages
for injuries she sustained on April 3, 2000 when LaSala's automobile was struck
in the rear by a State-owned automobile. The trial of this claim was bifurcated
and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of
LaSala testified that on April 3, 2000, at approximately 7:00 a.m., she was
driving a 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier northbound in the far left lane of the
three-lane roadway of the Cross Island Parkway (Cross Island). LaSala and
claimant were very familiar with the daily traffic patterns as they commuted
together to work in Brooklyn and alternated driving responsibilities. LaSala
testified that the traffic usually backs up on the Cross Island from the Union
Turnpike and Island Central Parkway exits and causes delays. LaSala had been in
the far left lane for a few minutes when she noticed brake lights ahead of her.
Within approximately 30 seconds, LaSala gradually brought her vehicle to a stop
from a speed of 45 mph. After she stopped, she looked in her rearview mirror
and observed a car behind her and anticipated that it might hit her vehicle.
Within five seconds, she heard a loud bang and felt her automobile propelled
forward into the car ahead of her.
Claimant testified that, as a daily commuter for 15 years, she was familiar with
the Cross Island and its traffic patterns. Claimant, a front-seat passenger,
recalled that she and LaSala had been traveling in the far left northbound lane
for several exits when the traffic started to slow down as it customarily did
every morning. LaSala gradually brought her car to a full stop and was stopped
for five to 15 seconds when her vehicle was impacted from the rear and propelled
Guy Petrone, a New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS)
employee, testified that on April 3, 2000, in the course of his employment, he
was driving a 1992 Chevrolet Caprice owned by DOCS. Petrone testified that,
from the time he entered the Cross Island, he began to merge from the right lane
toward the left lane.
He testified that, almost immediately after he had moved into the far left lane,
the front of his automobile hit the rear of LaSala's car. Petrone was
concededly aware that the LaSala vehicle was stopped; however, despite his
efforts, he was unable to stop before hitting LaSala's car. Petrone did not
offer any explanation for hitting the LaSala vehicle.
"A rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle creates a prima facie
case of liability against the operator of the rearmost vehicle, thereby
requiring that operator to rebut the inference of negligence by providing a
non-negligent explanation for the collision" (
Argiro v Norfolk Contract Carrier
, 275 AD2d 384, 385; see also
Danza v Longieliere
, 256 AD2d 434, 435 ["defendant's testimony to the
effect that the accident was caused by the plaintiff's sudden stop was
insufficient to rebut the presumption that he was negligent"]). Notably,
Petrone offered no explanation for his rear-end collision into LaSala's
"It was also the duty of the
defendant to operate his automobile with reasonable care with regard to the
actual and potential hazards existing from road and traffic conditions; to have
his automobile under reasonable control; and to see that which, under the facts
and circumstances, he should have seen by the proper use of his senses"
(McCarthy v Miller
, 139 AD2d 500). Drivers are under a duty to maintain
a safe distance between their vehicles and the vehicles in front of them
Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1129[a]; Reed v New York City Tr.
, 299 AD2d 330, 332). The weather was clear and the road was dry.
Therefore, had Petrone not been negligent, he should have been able to avoid
striking LaSala's car (see Sass v Ambu Trans.
, 238 AD2d 570
[defendant breached duty to maintain a reasonably safe distance between himself
and traffic he was following and to be aware of traffic conditions, including a
stoppage in traffic caused by another driver several cars ahead of defendant]).
Under all the circumstances, the Court finds that Petrone's inattentiveness as a
driver was the sole proximate cause of the accident (see Santanastasio
, 301 AD2d 511, 512 [the evidence "not only fails to rebut the
presumption of negligence, rather, it reinforces the conclusion that the
plaintiff's actions, *** [were] the sole proximate cause of the
Accordingly, the Court finds defendant 100 percent liable for
claimant's injuries. All motions not heretofore ruled upon are DENIED. A trial
on the issue of damages will be held as soon as
LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.