A New York appellate court has reversed a summary judgment in favor of a taxi cab patron who was injured as he alighted from the cab and struck by the frame of the rear door. As a result of the hit, he fell to to the ground, smacking the curb and sustaining injuries.
Our Manhattan taxi cab accident lawyers know his claim might have been straightforward had it not been for one thing: the question of comparative fault.
The taxi cab driver had a slightly different version of events than the patron. While the patron said the taxicab moved suddenly as he was exiting the vehicle, the driver said the patron opened the door while the vehicle was still moving and attempted to get out, causing the door to strike the patron, who then fell.
The appellate court did not determine which version was more likely the correct one in Gorenkoff v. Nagar, but instead found there was not enough evidence to support a grant of summary judgment in the plaintiff’s favor as a matter of law.
Per the case law established in Thoma v. Ronai, order to prove taxicab liability as a matter of law in this case, the patron would have needed to show:
- The defendant was negligent;
- The negligence proximately caused the injury;
- The plaintiff was free from comparative fault.
Comparative fault is the degree to which the plaintiff is at fault for the injury. New York State follows a model of pure comparative fault. According to N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 1411, a plaintiff’s damages can be reduced proportionately by their own liability or the assumption of risk, though they won’t be barred completely.
Here, the court didn’t determine whether the taxi cab driver acted with negligence or whether the patron may have shared some part in the cause of his own injuries. In fact, the only evidence the court had to consider was the testimony given by the plaintiff and that of the defendant. Those accounts differed, meaning there remained a triable issue of fact for a jury to decide, which meant the matter was prematurely decided in favor of the plaintiff by the lower court.
Unlike those injured in typical car accidents, those injured in taxi cab accidents will likely want to pursue damages against not only the driver, but also the company for whom he or she worked. To do so, the plaintiff needs to prove the driver was the company’s employee, agent, servant or co-participant in a joint venture. This can be done through analysis of the franchise model, tracing ownership of the taxicab and looking at whether the driver “held itself out” as the operator of the vehicle service. Ownership of the vehicle isn’t enough to establish liability. However, if the company owns the cab and provides it to the driver, the company is seen to have exerted control over the vehicle and driver, which, in the eyes of the law, makes the driver an employee. Therefore, the company could be held liable for any driver negligence.
This is an important element to establish because most cab drivers, in and of themselves, lack the resources for an injured party to recover damages. Pursuit of a claim against his or her employer is usually the more successful route.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Gorenkoff v. Nagar, Aug. 6, 2014, Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department
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