*Noseworthy Doctrine, Passing Through a Red Light, The Brake Failure Defense, and Summary Judgement in Light of Possible Culpable Conduct by Plaintiff

Judge DeGrasse’s decision in Tselebis v Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., decided by the Appellate Division, First Department on February 18, 2010 has a number of things to remember in the areas of automobile liability, motions for summary judgment, and the Noseworthy Doctrine.

Tselebis involved a two-vehicle accident at an intersection controlled by a traffic light. Plaintiff testified that he had no recollection of the accident and the defendant driver testified that he entered the intersection against a red light, did not see plaintiff prior to the impact, and claimed brake failure for the cause of the accident.

    Noseworthy Requires More Than Mere Memory Loss

“As a preliminary matter, Supreme Court correctly rejected plaintiff’s argument that his alleged memory loss entitled him to a lesser degree of proof under Noseworthy v City of New York (298 NY 76 [1948]). In the absence of medical evidence establishing the loss of memory and its causal relationship to defendants’ fault, the question of a lesser degree of proof cannot be considered (see Sawyer v Dreis & Krump Mfg. Co., 67 NY2d 328, 335 [1986]).”

    Entering an Intersection While the Traffic Light is Red is Negligence

“Nevertheless, summary judgment in favor of plaintiff is warranted by the proof before the court. Melendez’s admission that he entered the intersection while the traffic light was red constituted a prima facie showing showing of liability on his part (cf. Diasparra v Smith, 253 AD2d 840 [1998]).

    Brake Failure as a Defense, Requires More Than Mere Brake Failure

“The proffer of brake failure by Melendez and his employer, defendant Tom Cat Bakery, as a cause of the accident, is insufficient to raise a triable factual issue with respect to their liability. A defendant claiming brake failure must make a two-pronged showing that the accident was caused by an unanticipated problem with the vehicle’s brakes, and that he exercised reasonable care to keep them in good working order (O’Callaghan v Flitter, 112 AD2d 1030 [1985]). These defendants have failed to meet the first prong in light of Melendez’s testimony of problems he experienced with the truck’s brakes prior to the accident.”

    Plaintiff’s Culpable Conduct Not a Bar to Summary Judgment

“Plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability despite the fact that his own negligence might remain an open question. A plaintiff’s culpable conduct no longer stands as a bar to recovery in an action for personal injury, injury to property or wrongful death. Under CPLR 1411, such conduct merely acts to diminish the plaintiff’s recovery in proportion to the culpable conduct of the defendants. This statute, enacted in 1975, substituted the notion of comparative fault for the common-law rule that barred a plaintiff from recovering anything if he or she was responsible to any degree for the injury (Alexander, McKinney’s CPLR Practice Commentaries C1411:1). Here, plaintiff’s own negligence, if any, would have no bearing on defendant’s liability. Stated differently, it is not plaintiff’s burden to establish defendants’ negligence as the sole proximate cause of his injuries in order to make out a prima facie case of negligence (see Kush v City of Buffalo, 59 NY2d 26, 32-33 (1983]). 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(Derdiarian v Felix Contr. Corp., 51 NY2d 308, 315 [1980] [emphasis added]).

We note that opinions by this Court and others suggest that freedom from comparative negligence is a required component of a plaintiff’s prima facie showing on a motion for summary judgment (see e.g. Palmer v Horton, 66 AD3d 1433 [2009]; Cator v Filipe, 47 AD3d 664 [2008]; Thoma v Ronai, 189 AD2d 635 [1993], affd 82 NY2d 736 [1993]). These opinions cannot be reconciled with CPLR 1411 if the statute is to be given effect.”

One response to “*Noseworthy Doctrine, Passing Through a Red Light, The Brake Failure Defense, and Summary Judgement in Light of Possible Culpable Conduct by Plaintiff

  1. Great write-up. Concise and informative, as usual. Keep it coming, Lou.

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