New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

PEREZ-ORTIZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-010-052, Claim No. 105018


Defendant found to be 100 percent liable for injuries incurred by claimant as the result of claimant's car being struck in the rear by defendant's car.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Gail Pierce-Siponen, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 31, 2005
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 liability.
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 forward.
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 vehicle.
"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 (see Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1129[a]; Reed v New York City Tr. Auth., 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 v Doe, 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 accident"]).
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 practicable.

October 31, 2005
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims