United States District Court, S.D. New York
For Stephanie Bale, Plaintiff: Michael Aniello Madonna, LEAD ATTORNEY, New York, NY.
For Carlo F. Nastasti, Margaret M. Nastasi, Defendants: Mark A. Longo, Longo & D'apice, Esqs, Brooklyn, NY.
OPINION AND ORDER
KENNETH M. KARAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Plaintiff Stephanie Bale (" Plaintiff" ) was the passenger in a car that was rear-ended by a car driven by Defendant Margaret Nastasi. Plaintiff alleges the accident caused various injuries, and Plaintiff has sued for money damages. The Parties conducted discovery, and Plaintiff now moves for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment is denied.
On Friday, June 26, 2009, at approximately 4:30 pm, a 2008 Jeep Laredo, owned by co-Defendant Carlo Nastasi (" Carlo" ) and operated by his wife, Defendant Margaret Nastasi (" Defendant" ), rear-ended a 2005 Grand Caravan owned by Plaintiff and operated by her sister, Tracy Pettit (" Pettit" ). ( See Nastasi Dep. 4:22-25, 5:2-16, 6:21-25, 8:19-21; Bale Dep. 8:13-21, 9:4-8, 15-19.) Both vehicles were traveling south on New Jersey's Garden State Parkway (" the Parkway" ). Plaintiff was a passenger in her own vehicle, and she and Pettit were on their way to Atlantic City, New Jersey for the weekend. ( See Bale Dep. 9:4-6, 20-21; Pettit Dep. 5:14-19, 9:8-10, 11:4-10.) Defendant was alone in the car owned by her husband Carlo, and she was headed south to see her brother. ( See Nastasi Dep. 5:4-12, 6:3-5, 8-10, 18-20, 20:17-25.)
The weather was clear, dry, and sunny. ( See Bale Dep. 8:20-25, 9:2-3; Pettit Dep. 32:11-21.) But, as might be expected on a summer Friday afternoon, traffic was " heavy," " stop and go," and " bumper to bumper" immediately preceding the accident, according to the depositions. ( See Pettit Dep. 12:2-7; Bale Dep. 15:6-8; Nastasi Dep. 7:23-25, 20:10.) Defendant testified that, during this traffic jam, she saw Plaintiff's vehicle for the first time approximately one mile before the site of the accident. ( See Nastasi Dep. 8:2-8:18.) At that point, Defendant's vehicle was in the same lane of traffic as Plaintiff's vehicle, with Defendant one car behind Plaintiff. ( See id .) Neither Plaintiff nor Pettit recalled being specifically aware that Defendant was behind them before the accident. ( See Pettit Dep. 15:18-20; Bale Dep. 16:2-4.)
At approximately 4:30 p.m., as the cars crept southward on the Parkway, Defendants' car rear-ended the car in which Plaintiff was a passenger. The differing accounts of the critical seconds preceding the collision are analyzed in detail below. But everyone agrees about what happened
immediately after the accident: Plaintiff and Defendant exited their respective vehicles, engaged in discussion, and agreed to call the police. ( See Nastasi Dep. 11:19-25, 12:2-14; Bale Dep. 27:7-13.) The telephone operator instructed the Parties to move their vehicles over to the right shoulder of the Parkway to wait for the police. ( See Nastasi Dep. 12:2-6; Bale Dep. 28:8-24.) When the police arrived, Defendant told the officials that Plaintiff's vehicle suddenly stopped in front of her, that Defendant applied her brake, and that there was " just impact, slight impact." (Nastasi Dep. 12:18-21.) In her deposition, Defendant could not specifically remember whether she told the police that she " took [her] eyes off the road for a second and hit into [Plaintiff's vehicle,]" but the New Jersey Police Crash Investigation Report in the record reveals that Defendant did say this to the police. (Nastasi Dep. 15:12-22; see also N.J. Police Crash Investigation Report, Dkt. No. 3-1.) Plaintiff, in her deposition, did not recall exactly what she told the police when they arrived. ( See Bale Dep. 29:12-14.)
Plaintiff received no medical assistance at the scene of the accident, and was not taken to the hospital. ( See Bale Dep. 31:5-12, 32:2-11.) After concluding their interaction with the police, Plaintiff and Pettit continued southbound in their vehicle to Atlantic City, where they stayed until Sunday, June 28, 2009. ( See Bale Dep. 31:22-25, 32:3-5.)
2. The Crash
As explained further below, resolving Plaintiff's summary judgment motion turns on what occurred in the critical few seconds before impact. And exactly what happened is in dispute. Specifically, the following material facts are disputed: (i) how fast Pettit was driving before the accident; (ii) whether Plaintiff's vehicle came to a gradual or an abrupt stop; (iii) the amount of time that elapsed between Plaintiff's vehicle coming to a stop and the impact; (iv) the force of the contact between the vehicles.
a. The Rate of Speed
o Plaintiff's account: Pettit stated that the highest rate of speed she traveled on the Parkway that day was " [n]ot high at all because it was very traffickey." (Pettit Dep. 11:22-23.) She stated that she had stopped her car " within a minute" prior to the stop that led to the accident and that the " highest speed" she traveled between those two stops was " five" -- presumably, five miles per hour. ( See id . at 13:2-25, 14:9-11.)
o Defendants' account: Defendant stated that the fastest rate of speed she traveled in the mile before the accident occurred was fifteen miles per hour and that the slowest rate of speed was a complete stop. ( See Nastasi Dep. 19:7-16.) She also testified that she was traveling at a rate of fifteen miles per hour at the time of the accident. ( See id . at 7:15-17.) Defendant also testified that she observed Plaintiff's vehicle traveling at a rate of approximately fifteen miles per hour before it " suddenly stopped" and the accident occurred. ( See id . at 13:3-6.)
b. The Speed of the Stop
o Plaintiff's account: Plaintiff testified that the stop Pettit made right before the accident was " [g]radual." (Bale Dep. 19:12-14.) Pettit testified that she stopped Plaintiff's vehicle because of ...