Liability Dominoes: Summary Judgment Remains a High Standard to Meet

Submitted by New Jersey Civil Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In Vivas v. Tango, decided by the Appellate division on June 18th, the defendant thought he had a simple case for summary judgment. The plaintiff was in front of his vehicle at a red light, when he himself was rear ended by a third vehicle. He moved for summary judgment because based on the facts which he felt shielded him from any liability.

However, the defendant got himself into trouble in the police report when he “stated he was stopping at the red light when he was struck.” The keyword here was stopping. However, during his deposition he testified that he was stopped. Due to the fact he was not completely stopped, contributory negligence became an issue and the trial judge determined it was necessary to determine the defendant’s velocity, and whether he was trailing the plaintiff’s vehicle at a safe distance. In a motion for summary judgment evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, which in this case would be the plaintiff. Thus it was found that there were disputes of material issues regarding the defendant’s vehicle, especially because the defendant contradicted himself.

This case reveals both the difficult of obtaining summary judgment even in cases that seem clear cut, and the importance of maintaining consistent and truthful testimony.

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