New York State Court of Claims


Case information:


Claimant(s): MELANIE M. MORGAN

Claimant short name:

Footnote (claimant name) :
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 119502
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):


Gina M. Lopez-Summa

Claimant's attorney:

Baxter Smith & Shapiro, P.C.

By: Joseph M. Guzzardo, Esq.

Defendant's attorney:

Hon. Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General

By: Faisal H. Sheikh, Assistant Attorney General

Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:

November 14, 2012
City: Hauppauge


Official citation:
Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Text of the decision:

A bifurcated trial concerning the issue of liability only was held in this matter. The subject claim arose on November 30, 2010 at approximately 8:00 a.m. when claimant's stopped vehicle was struck in the rear by a State owned vehicle operated by defendant's agent.

Claimant, Melanie Morgan, testified that just prior to the accident she was operating her vehicle northbound on Nichols Road in the left hand lane. She described Nichols Road as a north/south road with two lanes of traffic running in both directions. Claimant explained that traffic on the morning of the accident was moving at a regular flow and was not stop and go traffic. She stated that she was driving at a speed of approximately 45 mph and that the posted speed limit was 50 mph. She testified that a black vehicle was traveling in front of her vehicle in the left hand lane. She stated that the black vehicle came to a sudden stop in the left lane even though there were no traffic control devices at that location. Claimant testified that she was able to bring her vehicle to a complete stop without striking the black vehicle. She stated that after a few seconds defendant's vehicle then struck her vehicle in the rear. The impact caused claimant's vehicle to move forward, spin to the right, cross over the adjacent northbound lane and crash into the guide rail. She stated that she did not see defendant's vehicle prior to the impact.

Jacquelyn Lucas testified that at the time of the accident she was employed by New York State Long Island Developmental Disabilities Service Office (LIDDSO). On the day of the accident she was driving a van owned by LIDDSO from one group home to another group home. She testified that she was driving on Nichols Road in the left hand lane at a speed of less than 55 mph which she believed was the speed limit on Nichols Road. She then noticed two vehicles at a dead stop in the left hand lane in front of her vehicle. She explained that she attempted to stop her vehicle and swerved to the left while braking in an attempt to avoid a collision. She testified that nevertheless the right front of her vehicle came into contact with the left rear of claimant's vehicle. She testified that she first noticed claimant's vehicle when it was stopped. She continued that there was approximately a half car length to a full car length of distance between their vehicles at that time.

A driver of a motor vehicle is under a duty to not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles, the traffic upon the highway and the condition of the highway (see Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1129[a]). "It is well settled that a 'rear-end collision with a stopped [or stopping] vehicle establishes a prima facie case of negligence on the part of the driver of the rear vehicle' " (Tutrani v County of Suffolk, 10 NY3d 906, 908 [2008]). Once a prima facie case has been established against the driver of the rear vehicle, that driver is then required to rebut the inference of negligence by providing a nonnegligent explanation for the collision (Harrington v Kern, 52 AD3d 473 [2d Dept 2008]; Klopchin v Masri, 45 AD3d 737 [2d Dept 2007]).

Claimant has established her prima facie case of negligence against defendant while the explanation provided by the driver of defendant's vehicle failed to establish a nonnegligent explanation for the collision. As a result, the Court finds that defendant, through its agent, was negligent in the operation of its vehicle and was the sole cause of the accident.

Accordingly, the Court finds defendant one hundred percent liable for the happening of this accident. A trial on the issue of damages will be held as soon as practicable.

The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter interlocutory judgment accordingly.