The tale of two U-turns: one innocent-driver defendant obtained summary judgment via the emergency doctrine defense; the other did not.

The First Department granted defendant Innocent Driver summary judgment under the emergency doctrine because Innocent Driver faced “egregious circumstances” when Tortfeasor Driver made a U-turn from the outside lane of a four-lane road crossing the inside lane where Innocent Driver was traveling, giving Innocent Driver only a “couple of seconds” to react.  Morales v. Chuquillanqui, 2018 NY Slip Op. 02139 (1st Dep’t March 27, 2018) .

In Morales, plaintiff was a passenger in defendant Tortfeasor Driver’s car.   Both vehicles were traveling the same direction on a four-lane road, with Tortfeasor Driver in the outside lane and Innocent Driver in the inside lane “some distance” behind Tortfeasor Driver.  Tortfeasor Driver made a U-turn from the outside lane across the inside lane in front of Innocent Driver, giving Innocent Driver  only a couple of seconds to react.  Innocent Driver attempted to steer to the left to avoid the collision but collided with Tortfeasor Driver’s car.  Because of these “egregious circumstances”, Innocent Driver was entitled to summary judgment under the emergency doctrine as a matter of law and plaintiff failed to raise a question of fact as to whether Innocent Driver’s reaction was reasonable.

On slightly different facts, however, the Second Department reversed summary judgment in favor of a plaintiff-passenger against an Innocent Driver and affirmed the denial of Innocent Driver’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint and all cross claims.  Vuksanaj v Abbott, 2018 NY Slip Op 02199 (2d Dep’t 2018)

In Vuksanaj, plaintiff was a rear-seat passenger in Tortfeasor Driver’s car which was travelling eastbound on Route 17K in Newburgh.  [Google Maps shows that Route 17K in and around Newburgh is a two-lane road with a speed limit of 30 mph in and around Newburgh.]  Innocent Driver was traveling behind Tortfeasor Driver.  When Tortfeasor Driver made a U-turn, Innocent Driver collided with Tortfeasor Driver’s car.  The two drivers gave conflicting deposition testimony as to how the accident happened.

Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment against Innocent Driver was reversed because plaintiff relied on the deposition testimony of herself and Tortfeasor Driver in which they both testified that they had been drinking alcohol at a fraternity party before the accident.  Because plaintiff had to prove not only that Innocent Driver was negligent but that plaintiff herself was free from comparative negligent, the Second Department held that plaintiff failed to disprove her comparative negligence because the question of fact as to whether she knew of Tortfeasor Driver’s possible intoxication created a question of fact as to her comparative negligence.

Regarding Innocent Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, Innocent Defendant likewise had to prove his own absence of negligence.  Innocent Defendant submitted Tortfeasor Driver’s testimony which raised a question of fact as to whether Innocent Driver was following too closely.  Because Innocent Driver failed to establish his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, his cross motion was properly denied without regard to the sufficiency of the opposition’s papers.

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