State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v DeCarloAnnotate this Case
Decided on February 28, 2012
Supreme Court, Queens County
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company as Subrogee of KALEEKAL J. BABY, Plaintiff,
Elaine A. DeCarlo, Defendant.
Robert J. McDonald, J.
The following papers numbered 1 to 13 were read on the motion by third-party defendants, MARIA HANAKIS and NIKOLAS HANAKIS, for an order pursuant to CPLR 3212(b) and 3211(a)(5) granting said third-party defendants summary judgment and dismissing the complaint of third-party plaintiff on the ground that third-party plaintiff is barred from maintaining the third-party action by the doctrine of collateral estoppel: [*2]
HANAKIS Notice of Motion -Exhibits.....................1 - 6
DECARLO Affirmation in Opposition......................7 - 10
HANAKIS Reply Affirmation.............................11 - 13
This is an action to recover for property damages sustained by the vehicle owned by Kaleekal J. Baby a result of a motor vehicle accident that occurred at approximately 2:30 p.m. on August 23, 2008. The four-car, chain reaction accident took place on the eastbound Staten Island Expressway near the intersection with Hylan Boulevard, Richmond County, New York.
The fourth vehicle in the chain was owned and operated by Jian Chen. Chen alleges that his vehicle was stopped in traffic when it was hit in the rear by the third vehicle in the chain owned by defendant Kaleekal J. Baby and operated by defendant Sony Mammen Philip. Philip, the driver of the second car in the chain, alleges that his vehicle was also stopped when it was hit in the rear by the vehicle operated by the plaintiff Maria Hanakis, who allegedly sustained injuries. Hanakis alleges that her vehicle was also stopped when it was rear-ended by the first vehicle in the chain owned and operated by defendant Elaine DeCarlo. Ms. DeCarlo, the driver of the moving vehicle, informed the police officer at the scene that she was distracted by her children who were seated in the rear seat of her vehicle which caused her to strike the Hanakis vehicle in the rear.
In the main action herein, State Farm, as subrogee of Kaleekal J. Baby, is seeking damages in the amount of $15,000 against Elaine DeCarlo on the ground that the damages to the Baby vehicle were caused solely by reason of the negligence of defendant DeCarlo. DeCarlo commenced a third-party action against Hanakis and Chen asserting that any property damage to the Baby vehicle was also caused by the actions of Hanakis and Chen.
A prior action related to this accident was commenced by Maria Hanakis and Nikolas Hanakis against DeCarlo, Baby, Mammen and Chen for damages for personal injuries sustained by Maria Hanakis. In that action filed under Queens County Index No. 1768/2009 Hanakis, Chen and Baby all moved for summary judgment [*3]on the issue of liability on the ground that the actions of DeCarlo in striking the Hanakis vehicle in the rear started the chain reaction and was the sole proximate cause of the accident.
After reviewing the deposition testimony of all parties, this court held, in a decision dated July 18, 2011, that the Chen, Hanakis and Baby vehicles were at a complete stop when Hanakis' vehicle was struck from behind by the vehicle driven by DeCarlo, causing the chain reaction accident. This Court held that Chen, Philip and Hanakis who were all stopped at the time of the impact, demonstrated that their conduct was not a proximate cause of the rear-end collision between their vehicle and the vehicles behind them (see Abrahamian v. Tak Chan, 33 AD3d 947 [2d Dept. 2006]; Calabrese v. Kennedy, 8 AD3d 505 [2d Dept. 2006]; Ratner v Petruso, 274 AD2d 566 [2d Dept. 2000]). This court found that Chen, Baby and Hanakis all satisfied their prima facie burden of establishing entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that their vehicles were stopped at the time they were struck in the rear in a chain reaction which was commenced by defendant Elaine Decarlo. DeCarlo testified that she was proceeding 30 - 40 miles per hour when she turned around and looked towards the back seat because her children were fighting and when she turned around ten seconds later she applied her brakes but did not have time to avoid the rear end collision with the Hanakis vehicle which was stopped in traffic. Ms Decarlo admitted the Hanakis vehicle was at a complete stop at the time of the impact. As Decarlo failed to raise a question of fact, this court ordered that the complaint against Chen was dismissed, the complaint against Baby/Mammen was dismissed, and the motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability in favor of Hanakis and against Decarlo was granted. In addition, this Court, in a decision dated January 6 , 2012, denied Decarlo's motion to reargue on the ground that the evidence showed that there was no question of fact raised by the deposition testimony as to whether Hanakis was comparatively negligent for causing the accident. This court held that Decarlo failed to submit evidence as to any negligence on the part of the other vehicles or to provide a nonnegligent explanation for her actions in striking the Hanakis vehicle which started the chain reaction.
In the instant motion, third-party defendants Maria and Nikolas Hanakis contend that the third-party complaint must be dismissed against them as the evidence shows, and the prior decision held, that Hanakis' vehicle bore no liability for the accident as it was stopped at the time of the accident and was pushed into the Baby vehicle as a result of the negligence of Decarlo. According to the deposition testimony, Decarlo told the [*4]police at the scene that the reason for the accident was that she turned around briefly because she was distracted by her children in the backseat.
In opposition to the motion, counsel for Hanakis argues as he did in the motion to reargue the decision dated July 18, 2011, that based upon Chen's testimony that it was only after Hanakis first rear ended the Philip vehicle that Decarlo rear ended the Hanakis vehicle and that said testimony creates a question of fact as to Hanakis' comparative negligence. However, as this court stated in the decision on the motion to reargue, the deposition testimony failed to raise a question of fact with regard to the comparative negligence of Ms. Hanakis.
Upon review and consideration of the motion of the third-party defendants Maria Hanakis and Nikolas Hanakis, third-party plaintiff's affirmation in opposition and defendants' reply thereto, this court finds that the defendants' motion is granted and the third part complaint is dismissed based upon this Courts' review of the deposition testimony of all the parties and pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5) on the ground of collateral estoppel for the reasons stated by this court in the decision of July 18, 2011 and the decision on the motion to reargue dated January 6, 2012.
As stated in this courts decision on the motion to reargue,
"Decarlo's deposition testimony established that Decarlo's inattentiveness in proceeding at a rate of 30 - 40 miles per hour in stop-and-go traffic and not looking in the direction she was driving was the sole proximate cause of the accident (see Giangrasso v Callahan, 87 AD3d 521 [2d dept. 2011]; Blasso v Parente, 79 AD3d 923 [2d Dept. 2010]). Ms. DeCarlo herself testified that the plaintiff's vehicle was stopped in front of her at the time of the impact and that as a result of the impact between her vehicle and the car in front of her, that car was propelled into another vehicle. Further, Ms. Hanakis testified that her vehicle was stopped in traffic at the time of the accident and that after the impact from the rear by the DeCarlo vehicle, her vehicle was propelled into the vehicle in front of her." This court also found, with regard to DeCarlo's argument based upon Chen's testimony, that Chen's testimony was "speculative and without merit based on the circumstances of the accident and the testimony of the other drivers."
Where a party has had a full and fair opportunity to litigate an issue, but has received an adverse final ruling on [*5]it, that party is collaterally estopped from litigating the same issue in another proceeding (see Continental Cas. Co. v Rapid-American Corp, 80 NY2d 640. Here, the identical issue of the liability of the parties for the causation of the accident was decided in the prior action and is decisive in the present action and DeCarlo has not shown, in opposition to the motion, that she did not have a fair opportunity to contest the prior determination.
Accordingly, as this court previously found that the deposition testimony of the parties demonstrates, prima facie, that Decarlo's negligence was the sole proximate cause in initiating the chain reaction accident and that the evidence is insufficient to raise a question of fact as to the comparative negligence of Hanakis, it is hereby
ORDERED, that the motion for an order dismissing the third- party complaint and all cross-claims against Maria Hanakis and Nikolas Hanakis is granted, and it is hereby
ORDERED, that the Clerk of Court is authorized to enter judgment accordingly.
Dated: February 28, 2012
Long Island City, NY
ROBERT J. MCDONALDJ.S.C.