New York Court of Appeals Delivers Plaintiff-Friendly Comparative Negligence Ruling
In a close 4-3 decision, the New York State Court of Appeals handed the plaintiffs’ bar a significant victory in Rodriguez v. City of New York. Arguably changing the law in New York State, the majority ruled that a court can award a plaintiff summary judgment on the issue of liability even if a defendant has raised questions of fact concerning comparative fault.
The court’s majority asked whether “to obtain partial summary judgment in a comparative negligence case … plaintiffs [must] establish the absence of their own comparative negligence.” Goldberg Segalla assisted in the preparation of the amicus brief submitted on behalf of the Defense Association of New York (DANY), pointing out that the court and all Appellate Divisions had previously agreed under Thoma v. Ronai and numerous Appellate Division rulings that a court could not award a plaintiff summary judgment under circumstances where there was proof of the plaintiff’s comparative fault. The majority disputed this long-held principle and practice, ruling that plaintiffs are not saddled with the burden of establishing the absence of their own comparative negligence. It is also worth noting that while the calculation of interest begins to run when there has been a finding of liability, the court’s decision is silent on this issue.
With this decision, the Court of Appeals lowers the burden on plaintiffs to obtain summary judgment on the issue of liability and effectively renders a plaintiff’s comparative fault finding a damages’ issue that merely reduces a total award.
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