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Plaintiff Failed to Prove Defendant Negligently Operated Her Vehicle at Uncontrolled Intersection

By on July 6, 2018 in Negligence with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Maria Troiani-Schwartz and Defendant Elizabeth Dicker collided at an uncontrolled intersection in Hopewell, New Jersey. The traffic light at the intersection was not functioning due to Hurricane Sandy. In Troiani-Schwartz v. Dicker, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1520 (App. Div. June 26, 2018), the plaintiff contended that summary judgment was inappropriate because there was a factual dispute as to whether the defendant failed to make reasonable observations before entering the intersection.

The accident occurred at the intersection of Route 31 and the exit ramp from I-95 toward Bull Run Road in Hopewell. The plaintiff admitted to seeing defendant’s vehicle on the ramp before the intersection about 500 feet away and assumed that defendant would stop. Defendant testified that she came to a complete stop and looked both ways before she entered the intersection. Plaintiff, however, sped up and crossed the intersection because she thought she had the right of way. She was unaware of her duty to come to a complete stop at an uncontrolled intersection.

Based on these facts, the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant, dismissing the complaint. The court concluded that the plaintiff had failed to present facts to refute that the defendant had the right of way and made reasonable observations. The plaintiff appealed, contending that her accident reconstruction expert’s opinion as to causation presented an issue of material fact, which should have been decided by a jury.

New Jersey law is clear that, under N.J.S.A. 39:4-90, a driver to the right has the right of way.  The Appellate Division noted that the plaintiff was legally obliged to yield to defendant, to her right, and come to a full stop because the traffic light was not operating. Under N.J.S.A. 39:4-81(b), when a traffic light is out due to a malfunction, the driver must observe the requirements for a stop intersection.

The Court found that the plaintiff presented no evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that the defendant violated N.J.S.A. 39:4-90. The evidence showed that defendant’s vehicle entered the intersection first and had the right of way for that reason alone. Further, the defendant had the right of way because plaintiff was the driver of the vehicle to the left and defendant was the driver of the vehicle to the right. Hence, under N.J.S.A. 39:4-90, the plaintiff was required to yield the right of way to the defendant.

The Appellate Division rejected plaintiff’s argument that her expert report created a genuine issue of material fact as to causation. Her expert submitted no proof that plaintiff’s vehicle entered the intersection first. Further, the Court noted that there was no evidence offered from which a jury could conclude that the defendant failed to make reasonable observations. The mere happening of an accident raises no presumption of negligence.

Due to the “substantial evidence of plaintiff’s negligence and the dearth of evidence of defendant’s negligence,” the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

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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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