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Thinking about negligence in auto accident litigation

Motor vehicle accidents can become complicated by a whole host of factors, but one we’d like to look at in this and the next post is when there are multiple negligent parties. We’ll begin the discussion by mentioning a decision made last week by a panel of appellate judges. The decision was in favor of NJ Transit regarding a 2011 crash on the New Jersey Turnpike which left a woman with orthopedic injuries.

The accident, according to sources, occurred when the transit bus and another motorist collided during the bus driver’s attempt to merge into traffic. Apparently the bus driver was not supposed to have attempted the merge because there was a solid white line, but he believed that the motorist intended to allow him into the lane of traffic. Instead, the motorist became angry at the attempt to merge, honked and sped up, which led to a collision. 

At trial, the jury found the bus driver negligent, but determined that the negligence was not a proximate cause of the accident due to the fact that no injury would have occurred if the motorist had not reacted in anger and sped up. That verdict was set aside by the trial judge, but the appellate judges said that it should not have been.

One comment the appellate judges made illustrates an important point about how negligence can be dealt with in auto accident cases. The comment was that the jury, given the evidence, could also reasonably have found that both parties were negligent and that the negligent actions of both parties constituted proximate causes of the accident.

In our next post, we’ll unpack this point a bit and look at the issue of comparative negligence in auto accident cases

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