Rear End Collisions Into Double Parked Cars And The Vexing Problem Of Proximate Cause

 

Double parked cars in Manhattan – it is as common as grass in the suburbs. Taxicabs picking up fares, buses loading and unloading passengers, and everyone else giving up the hunt for the one existing parking space and putting on the hazards for the few minutes it takes to run in a buy a lottery ticket. Everyone does it in Manhattan and it is basically unavoidable. But given the First Department’s decision in White v Diaz, 2008 NY Slip Op 00433 last week you may want to strongly reconsider double parking; the Court held that if you double park and someone else strikes your vehicle from the rear, you may have contributed to the accident.

The car accident in question occurred shortly before 6:00 a.m., when an Access-a-Ride van double-parked on First Avenue near East 94th Street in Manhattan to pick up the plaintiff. It was struck in the rear by a van driven by defendant Diaz and owned by defendant Agramonte. Diaz admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. Plaintiff was a passenger who had just entered the Access-a-Ride van, which was driven by defendant Nunez and owned by defendant Atlantic Paratransit (the Nunez defendants). Defendant Nunez testified that he double parked in the first lane for moving traffic on First Avenue in front of plaintiff’s building to wait for her, because there were no available spots at the curb and he did not see the entrance to the building’s parking lot. He said he waited approximately five minutes with his hazard lights on before plaintiff arrived. After the plaintiff got in, but before she was able to put on her seat belt, the accident occurred.

Following discovery, the Nunez defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that since their van was struck in the rear while stopped, the accident was proximately caused solely by the negligence of Diaz, and their van’s presence in the traveling lane merely furnished the condition or occasion for the accident.

After analyzing a number of similar rear end collisions into stopped vehicles, the Court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The Court stated that, “where there is any doubt, confusion, or difficulty in deciding whether the issue ought to be decided as a matter of law, the better course is to leave the point for the jury to decide.” The Court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that a rear-end collision is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of double parking for five minutes on a busy Manhattan street. The Court stated that the precise manner of the accident need not be foreseeable. Rather, it was enough that it was foreseeable that the flow of traffic, being impeded by the double-parked van, that an inattentive, careless or distracted driver might not stop in time to avoid the van. The Court stated that a reasonable jury might conclude that if the Nunez van had pulled over to the curb or into a nearby parking lot to wait, it would not have been in the path of the Diaz van and plaintiff would not have been injured.

A few personal observations: After this case, I can’t envision any instance in which a stopped double parked vehicle can be found not to have contributed to a rear end collision. It was undisputed that the driver of the other vehicle fell asleep while driving. If this can not be seen as the entire proximate cause I don’t know what can. In addition, it seems to me to be irrelevant how long the Access-a-Ride van was double parked. The accident occurred instantaneously and thus it was irrelevant how long it was double parked. In fact, the longer it was doubled parked without an accident occurring would seem to suggest that the double parking could not have contributed to the accident. Think of the number of vehicles which passed the double parked Access-a-Ride van during the 4 minutes and 59 seconds it was double parked and did not strike it in the rear. When determining proximate cause isn’t it appropriate to calculate, or at least approximate, how many potential accidents did not occur? Finally, it now becomes perilous for all taxicabs and buses in the City. All will have to foresee being struck in the rear while picking up passengers.

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