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A taxi cab and a truck were both travelling on Second Avenue

On April 20, 1972 a taxi cab and a truck were both travelling on Second Avenue near 70th Street. The two vehicles collided and the taxi was pushed up onto the sidewalk where it hit a woman. The woman was severely injured and her leg had to be amputated. The jury in the initial trial awarded the woman $800,000 from the taxi company. No compensation was demanded of the truck company whose truck was at fault for the accident in question.

The Court stated that:

‘Whatever version of the accident is accepted in whole or in part, or in combination, the conclusion is inescapable that the truck driver failed to maintain that degree of control over his vehicle and that degree of alertness to conditions of traffic surrounding him, which it was his legal obligation to maintain under the conditions prevailing at the time and place of the accident.’

At the time of the original trial, however, there was a question of facts in the case as to how the accident had actually occurred. The Manhattan taxi driver had stated that he was driving down Second Avenue at about twenty miles per hour when he was struck in the back end by the truck. The force of the impact caused him to go up on the sidewalk and strike the Long Island pedestrian.

The truck driver stated that he was proceeding south on Second Avenue when the taxi driver attempted to cut in front of him from a lane of traffic to the left. He advised that he could not stop his truck in time and struck the taxi. A witness to the accident who was himself a taxi driver at the time of the original accident stated that he saw the taxi cut across in front of the truck. He stated that the taxi caused the original accident. The witness had, however, at different times written two statements about how the accident had occurred and both statements were different from his testimony on the stand.

The witness stated that in the first statement he had not seen the taxi cut in front of the truck but that the taxi was in front of the truck and for some reason the truck did not slow down and skidded into the rear of the cab. In the second statement, the witness stated that he observed the taxi in front of the truck straddling the first and second lanes and the cab was going very slowly. The truck was speeding trying to pass the cab and struck the cab in the rear pushing it up onto the sidewalk.

The attorney then went on to show that the witness had been paid for each of these statements by opposing counsels and that depending on who was paying him at the time, the witness’ statement reflected what they wanted to hear. The attorney for the truck driver then stated that he had refused to pay this witness for his testimony even though he had demanded payment from him just as he had from the others who had paid him for the statements that he had written. This strategy by the attorneys for the truck driver could only make the taxi defendants and the woman look like they had paid for testimony while exonerating the truck driver from guilt in the accident. The witness further stated on direct examination that he had provided the written statements which he admitted were false, because he was worried that the woman would not be able to get sufficient compensation from the insurance company for the taxi driver for her injuries. He stated that he had surmised that by writing these statements that he would be able to improve the woman’s chances of getting an appropriate compensation for her injuries in particular from the insurance company for the truck driver.
Since the trial judge in this case originally set aside the verdict, the Justices cite CPLR ยง 4404 which provides that after the rendition of a verdict, a judge can set aside a verdict if “. . . upon the motion of any party or on its own initiative, . . . may set aside a verdict . . . where the verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence, in the interest of justice . . ..’ Such action should not be taken merely because the trial judge would have acted differently but ‘only where it seems palpably wrong and it can be plainly seen that the preponderance is so great that the jury could not have reached their conclusion upon any fair interpretation of the evidence.’ (Kimberly-Clark Corp. v. Power Authority, 35 A.D.2d 330, 316 N.Y.S.2d 68.)
Basically a trial judge is responsible to set aside a verdict if it is manifestly a miscarriage of justice and the jury acted mistakenly. The Justices stated that it may be the case that the truck driver has no liability under the ‘true’ facts of the case. The Justices felt that the jury was unable to determine what the ‘true’ facts of the case were, though based on all of the “extraneous and gratuitous” evidence that the jury was permitted to hear in the course of this case which could only alter the fact-finding process.

The Justices stated that they all agreed that the evidence that was actual in this case had it been credited by the jury was sufficient to eliminate any liability from the truck driver. There was only one dissenting comment from one justice. He stated that he felt that if a new trial was ordered that the same outcome could be expected because the jury would hear the same evidence. He suggested that a reverse to set aside the verdict would be appropriate and a stipulation that the compensation should not exceed $500,000 unless everyone stipulated to acceptance of this plan and then the verdict as modified would be sufficient.
The other Justices do not agree with the dissenting view. They affirm the judge’s decision to set aside the verdict.

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