In May 2019, partners Donald Derrico and Peter Siachos obtained a unanimous defense verdict in a case related to a motor vehicle accident where a tractor-trailer was subject to a sudden lane change by another vehicle and crossed the median into oncoming traffic. In May 2020, the verdict was then affirmed on appeal as argued by Derrico and Patrick Welch.
The New York State Police investigation into the accident determined the truck was speeding prior to reacting to a sudden lane change by another vehicle. The plaintiff/driver sustained severe injuries in the accident. Despite the fact that the truck was speeding, Derrico was able to illicit that it was not a proximate cause of the accident from the New York State Police responding officer.
Plaintiff’s counsel objected to this testimony as it called for an expert opinion and was a question for the jury. The judge overruled the objection and let the testimony stand. The judge instructed the jury that speeding is a violation of the vehicle and traffic law and could be considered evidence of negligence. After four hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict wherein they found that the driver was negligent for speeding but that this was not a proximate cause of the accident.
Plaintiff appealed the jury verdict. The appeal centered on the reversible error for the trial court to deny plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict, because evidence of the tractor trailer’s excessive speed established a violation of the New York vehicle and traffic law and constituted negligence. Plaintiff also argued that it was an error for the trial court to allow the responding police officer to offer opinion testimony as to whether the operation of the tractor trailer had any influence on the accident because the officer was not qualified as an expert witness.
In the appellate brief written by Derrico and Welch, they argued that the denial of plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict was proper, because liability does not result unless the violation of the vehicle and traffic law was a proximate cause of the accident. It was further argued that a jury could rationally and fairly conclude that the speed of the tractor-trailer was not a proximate cause of the accident, in light of evidence that the tractor trailer was set in motion due to a sudden lane change by co-defendant’s vehicle.
Gordon & Rees’ attorneys further argued that it was not an error for the trial court to allow opinion testimony by the responding police officer because the officer’s conclusions were derived from her own factual observations that did not require any particular expertise.
On May 14, 2020, the Appellate Division, Third Department, by a panel of five justices, unanimously affirmed the jury verdict and awarded costs to the firm's client.