Court grants less burden of proof on motions for personal injury plaintiffs

When the negligence of an individual or corporate entity leads to an accident and your personal injury, you can sue the responsible party for damages. The awards you receive help you pay for immediate and long-term health care bills, make up for lost income or employment and, in some cases, compensate for pain and suffering. 

What if you were partially at fault for the incident? New York is a comparative negligence state, meaning that whatever percentage of accountability is yours impacts how much money you can recover. In some cases, legal issues of fault can be resolved by the court before trial, in a procedure called "summary judgment."  Until recently, people bringing lawsuits were required not only to prove the other party's fault but also prove your their innocence when seeking  summary judgment. However, a ruling by the state Court of Appeals has just changed that requirement.

4-3 ruling

The judges were nearly split in half over the decision. The majority side noted that current practices were inconsistent with a 1975 statute that made the comparative negligence of the plaintiff relevant only when it came to awarding damages. Also, this interpretation would make future case rulings more consistent by setting the terms for all courts to follow. The minority side argued that the decision was unfair to defendants.

What led to this hard look at the law was a New York City case involving a sanitation worker who became pinned between a vehicle and a tire rack when a truck skidded while backing into the sanitation garage. The worker claimed negligence on behalf of the truck driver, whereas the city claimed the plaintiff was negligent for walking behind the truck. This case was handled by Joshua Kelner from Kelner & Kelner.

What does it mean for you?

With this change going into effect, you will now have less of a legal burden in establishing your case in a motion for summary judgment before trial. You may still receive less financial compensation in the end due to the amount of negligence you contributed, but this detail will no longer matter at the summary judgment stage. Of course, every case is different in circumstances and complexity, so this ruling does not automatically make the process easy or guarantee things will go in your favor.

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