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Appellate Division Holds No Absolute Rule Of Law Finding Liability Due To Rear End Collision

By on November 27, 2019 in Liability with 0 Comments

The plaintiff Ming Zhang appealed from a no cause verdict entered after
a bench trial.  Plaintiff’s complaint sought compensation for property damage to his vehicle suffered from a rear end collision.  The trial court judge found that the plaintiff had caused the accident when he abruptly changed lanes into the lane that the defendant was traveling and stopped short.  In Zhang v. Bork, 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2382 (App. Div. November 22, 2019), one of the issues upon appeal was whether there was an absolute rule of law that striking the rear end of a vehicle automatically constituted negligence.

The Appellate Division pointed out that there was credible testimony of the defendant that the plaintiff abruptly changed into the lane that defendant was traveling and then stopped short.  It found no basis to disturb the trial court’s witness credibility assessment as to how the events leading up to the accident unfolded.

The Court held that the plaintiff was mistaken in his assertion that he is entitled as a matter of law to a judgment on the question of liability because his vehicle was struck from behind.  The case law does not establish “an absolute rule of law that striking the rear end of a vehicle automatically and invariably constitutes negligence without considering how and when a plaintiff’s vehicle got in front of a defendant’s vehicle.” 

The trial court judge was the finder of fact in this case.  Based upon the trial judge’s factual findings as to the circumstances leading up to the collision, the Court found that the judge could reasonably conclude in applying the relevant principles of law that the plaintiff caused the accident and that defendant was not negligent.  Thus, the Appellate Division did uphold the trial court’s ruling for a no cause.

This case points out that there can be a defense in the event of a rear end collision.  A sudden lane change can be a viable defense under the right circumstances, as demonstrated by this case.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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