A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Skidding of Automobile Does Not Give Rise to Inference of Negligence

By on April 30, 2014 in Blog with 0 Comments

Irena Pronina (“Pronina”), while operating a Hummer at 4:30 in the morning, drove down a hill, spun out on ice, and ended up on the grassy median on Route 78 in Somerset County. George Howell (“Howell”) was injured after trying to help her and signal motorists coming down the hill as to the ice. Whether the skidding of her automobile gives rise to an inference of negligence was an issue considered by the Appellate Division in Howell v. Cross-Burgos, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 105 (App.Div. 2014).

Howell saw Pronina’s Hummer in the median and pulled his pick up truck off the highway onto the right shoulder and activated his hazards. He crossed the highway to see if she was hurt. Pronina was not injured and he drove her in her car across the highway and parked the Hummer behind his truck. After telling her to sit in his truck, he walked out to signal cars coming down the hill. A tractor-trailer spun out on the ice and struck the Hummer and Howell.

Howell sued Pronina and the driver of the tractor trailer. Pronina filed for summary judgment, claiming that Howell had produced no proof of her negligence. The trial court judge granted the motion, ruling that even if Pronina was negligent in operating her vehicle or not moving it from the median, such conduct was not the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.

The Appellate Division affirmed, but not for the reasons cited by the trial court. The appeals court found that there was no evidence that Pronina was negligent. The court held that “the skidding of an automobile on an icy roadway does not give rise to the inference of negligence on the part of a driver.” If the rule were otherwise, the court noted that every driver would be compelled to stay off the roads when weather conditions rendered them slippery.

Skidding can be evidence of negligence if it appears that it was caused by the failure of the driver to take reasonable precautions to avoid it, when conditions of which he knew or should have known made such a result probable in the absence of such precautions. Here, there was no evidence that Pronina’s car spun out because she knew or should have known the road was icy and failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent her car from skidding.

Pronina testified that she was driving carefully in the middle lane. There was no expert report that she was speeding. Thus, the Appellate Division found that there was simply no evidence that she was negligent. Hence, it affirmed the order dismissing the lawsuit as to Pronina.

Too often we assume that if a vehicle slides on ice that the driver must have been negligent. This case points out that NJ law does not automatically infer negligence in such a situation.


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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 30 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.

For the years 2020-2023, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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