New York Court of Appeals Rejects Contributory Negligence Defense

A major obstacle to personal injury cases was removed by the New York Court of Appeals in its ruling in Rodriguez v. City of New York earlier this year. As a result, personal injury plaintiffs have a better chance of getting their negligence cases to trial. The following is an analysis of the court’s reasoning and what it means for personal injury litigation in the future.

Rodriguez v. City of New York

The plaintiff, Carlos Rodriguez, sued the City of New York for injuries he sustained while working for the New York City Department of Sanitation. A city sanitation truck lost control and struck Rodriguez, trapping him against a rack of tires.

However, the City of New York argued that Rodriguez’s own negligence contributed to his injury. At the time the truck was backing up and lost control, Rodriguez was walking behind the truck – a violation of department safety procedures.

Impact on Negligence Cases

The plaintiff and defendant moved for partial summary judgment regarding the issue of liability. Here, negligence on the part of Rodriguez and the City of New York contributed to the accident.

A motion for partial summary judgment allows courts to rule on an issue prior to trial based on the arguments and evidence submitted when the motion was filed. A motion is granted if a jury could not possibly find in favor of the non-moving party regarding the particular issue.

In this case, Rodriguez moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of the City’s liability – implying there is no question that the defendant was negligent. The City argued that the plaintiff is required to disprove their own contributory negligence before the court can grant summary judgment on the City’s negligence.

The Court of Appeals rejected the City’s argument, pointing out that Section 1411 of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules states:

"In any action to recover damages for personal injury, injury to property, or wrongful death, the culpable conduct attributable to the claimant or to the decedent, including contributory negligence or assumption of risk, shall not bar recovery, but the amount of damages otherwise recoverable shall be diminished in the proportion which the culpable conduct attributable to the claimant or decedent bears to the culpable conduct which caused the damages."

Simply put, comparative fault is irrelevant to the issue of the defendant’s liability. The fact that a plainitff’s negligence contributed to their own injury cannot be used by the defendant to avoid liability. Instead, the plaintiff’s negligence is only a factor when determining the amount of damages they can recover:

“[C]omparative negligence is no longer a complete defense to be pleaded and proven by the plaintiff, but rather is only relevant to the mitigation of plaintiff's damages and should be pleaded and proven by the defendant.”

Therefore, if a court grants partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff on the defendant’s liability, there is no question that the defendant owes money to the plaintiff. The only question for the jury to determine is how much money the defendant owes. Proof of the plaintiff’s negligence may reduce the dollar amount of any damages awarded.

Contact a Skilled Brooklyn Personal Injury Attorney

Have you been injured as the result of another person’s negligence? You should consult with an experienced Brooklyn personal injury attorney to preserve your rights. At Koenigsberg & Associates Law Offices, we have dedicated our practice to litigating personal injury cases, ranging from car accidents to premises liability cases. Our compassionate and results-oriented approach to representing clients is a crucial component to achieving our rate of success.

To arrange a free case evaluation, call Koenigsberg & Associates Law Offices at (718) 690-3132 or contact us online today!

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