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Defendant-Operator With Right-of-Way Wins Dismissal

Not every intersection accident is a ‘he said/she said’ toss up for the jury to decide.

The First Department recently held that summary judgment dismissal was properly granted to the defendants, vehicle owner and operator, in an intersection accident where plaintiff’s vehicle was controlled by a stop sign, in the case of Yahaira Lugo v. Daytona Auto Sales, Inc., et al, 123 N.Y.S.3d 496, 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 03199 (1st Dep’t 2020).  The defendants’ evidence established that the cause of the accident was the negligence of the driver of plaintiff’s vehicle, who failed to obey a stop sign in violation of New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law Sect. 1142, which statute mandates that the driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop and yield the right of way to any vehicle which has entered the intersection from another roadway or which is approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when such driver is moving across or within the intersection.

In affirming the order granting dismissal, the court in Lugo cited to its prior decision in Namisnak v. Martin, 244 A.D.2d 258, 260, 664 N.Y.S.2d 435 (1st Dep’t 1997) for its reasoning that defendants, with the right-of-way at the intersection where the collision occurred were “entitled to anticipate that other vehicles will obey the traffic laws that require them to yield”.  Id.

The Lugo Court rejected plaintiff’s contention that the defendants’ vehicle may have been driving over the posted speed limit as being insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to comparative negligence, since there is no evidence it could have contributed to the accident.  Lugo, 123 N.Y.S.3d 496.

Established precedent is that a “presumption of negligence” arises from a failure to yield the right of way at a stop sign, and that bare speculation that another driver was “going fast” is not enough to overcome the presumption of negligence or to create and issue of fact for trial.  Murchison v. Incognoli, 5 A.D.3d 271, 773 N.Y.S.2d 299 (1st Dep’t 2004).  In another similar stop sign case, one driver’s statement that he may have been driving “five miles over the posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour” was insufficient to raise an issue of fact as to comparative negligence since there is no evidence that it could have contributed to the collision.  Martinez v. Cofer, 128 A.D.3d 421, 8 N.Y.S.3d 212 (1st Dep’t 2015).

The cases highlight how following the rules of the road, and obeying stop signs in particular, can lead to favorable rulings and victory in court.

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