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Driver Of Automobile Found Not Liable For Auto Accident When No Ability to Avoid Collision

By on September 20, 2019 in Negligence with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Cirillo Gonzalez was a passenger in the motor vehicle being operated by defendant Hector Lopez, which was involved in a collision with defendant Everlynia Hudson.  The Hudson vehicle entered the roadway in front of the Lopez vehicle without stopping at a stop sign.  The issue in Gonzalez v. Lopez, 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1844 (App. Div. August 30, 2019) was whether Lopez could be found responsible for failing to attempt evasive maneuvers to avoid the accident. 

Lopez had been traveling in the middle of the three lanes on US 130 South in Pennsauken when the accident occurred.  He was obeying the posted speed limit when he approached the intersection with Richey Avenue, which meets the highway from an acute angle to the right.  The intersection was unregulated on Route 130 but there was a stop sign on Richey Avenue.  Both Gonzalez and Lopez saw the defendant Hudson approach and enter the highway without stopping or slowing.  Lopez was about 10 or 15 feet from the intersection when Hudson’s vehicle entered the highway.  Just 5 or 10 feet from the Hudson vehicle, Lopez slammed on his brakes but he had no time to swerve before hitting the rear of her car.  As a result of the collision, the plaintiff Gonzalez, who was a front seat passenger in the Lopez vehicle, was injured.

Gonzalez sued Lopez claiming that he negligently operated his vehicle, by failing to slow down upon seeing Hudson approach and by failing to attempt evasive maneuvers.  Lopez contended that Hudson was solely responsible for the collision and that he had insufficient time to avoid the collision. 

The defendant Lopez filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that Gonzalez had failed to present sufficient evidence as to the question of his alleged negligence.  The trial court judge agreed with the defense position and concluded that there were insufficient facts from which a jury could infer that Lopez was negligent.  The trial court judge noted that Lopez was observing the speed limit and that Hudson entered the intersection suddenly.  He found that there was no basis to conclude that Lopez could have safely avoided the collision.

Plaintiff Gonzalez contended on appeal that issues of the proper speed and control of a vehicle are typically question of facts for the jury.  However, the Appellate Division noted that “Gonzalez must show more than the fact of an accident to establish evidence.”  The Court noted that mere speculation was not enough.  Although Lopez did collide with the rear of the Hudson vehicle, this case did not present the typical rear end collision in which one motorist was following another too closely.             

The Court noted that even assuming that Lopez noticed the Hudson vehicle approaching the intersection too fast to stop, the plaintiff failed to present any evidence that Lopez had time to do anything about it.  There was no dispute that Lopez was only a mere 15 feet from the intersection when he spotted Hudson.  Thus, the Appellate Division ruled that no reasonable jury could conclude that Lopez, who was lawfully traveling at 40 miles per hour, or 59 feet per second, could have safely avoided Hudson had he tried to do so.  Thus, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision, dismissing the lawsuit as to defendant Lopez.

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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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