Plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability despite the fact that his own negligence might remain an open question

This case came down in February while I was on vacation and deals with several interesting issues relating to auto accidents, only one of which I’ll discuss here.

In a motor vehicle there are often multiple causes. In this case, it was a red light at issue. A truck and motorcyle collided. The plaintiff-motorcyclist moved for summary judgment, and the court denied it because he might have also been negligent.

This was error and the Appellate Division (First Department) reversed in Tselebis v. Ryder Truck Rental, holding that when a plaintiff moves for summary judgment, s/he is “entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability despite the fact that his own negligence might remain an open question.”

In other words, it is not necessary to establish defendants’ negligence as the sole proximate cause of injuries in order to make out a prima facie case of negligence. To establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff “must generally show that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial cause of the events which produced the injury.”

Big difference. If a jury finds that the plaintiff was also at fault, then an apportionment can be made, but that does not preclude summary judgment.

Also in this decision is discussion of the requisite elements of the Noseworthy Doctrine (lower standard of proof due to death, or incapacity that prevents recollection of events) and culpability for entering an intersection against the red light.

For more discussion of those, head to Lou and the Law.

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