A New York State Police 911 operator knew something went horribly wrong when, after a conversation with a disabled motorist that lasted several minutes, the operator heard a loud crash and the line suddenly went dead. The 911 operator immediately feared the worst: that the caller had been involved in a serious car accident.
Moments earlier, 29-year-old Jesenia Valentin, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, ran out of gas while driving her Volkswagen Passat on Interstate-84 near Wawayanda, New York. Valentin’s 9-year-old daughter, Angelina Rodriguez, and a second unidentified female passenger were also in the car at the time of the tragic auto accident.
Ruggiero, a 52-year-old truck driver from Sugar Loaf, Pennsylvania, was driving a semi-truck and hauling goods for Auto Zone when his tractor-trailer collided with the parked car on the side of the highway. All three people inside the Passat were killed almost instantly. Additionally, two dogs inside the parked car were also killed in the collision.
Tragically, Ruggiero may not have been able to see the disabled car prior to rear-ending it at almost full speed.
Third Party Liability for a Fatal Car Accident in New York
Since so many NY drivers are uninsured or under-insured, third party liability theories, like respondeat superior (“let the master answer”), often make a tremendous difference when determining the proper amount of compensation that victims should receive. That’s because an additional responsible party often means an additional source of recovery for car accident victims.
In New York State, as elsewhere, respondeat superior basically consists of two elements:
- “Employed by”: In negligence cases, most courts use some variation of the common-law definition of this term, which is “suffer or permit to work.” So, in addition to statutory employees, independent contractors, owner-operators under contract with a third party, interns, and even unpaid volunteers can be considered “employees.”
- “Course and Scope”: Here, interpretations differ. Some courts define the phrase narrowly, so delivery drivers that are on their normal delivery routes are considered to be acting within the course and scope of their employment. However, most courts interpret the phrase broadly, to encompass any activity that benefits the employer in any way. Under this interpretation, an injury in a company softball game could be considered to have occurred “during the course and scope of employment” because the employer benefits by having happy and healthy workers.
Other third party liability theories include the dram shop law, which holds bars, restaurants, and other commercial alcohol providers liable for some car crash injuries, and negligent entrustment, which refers to a person who allows a dangerous driver to use their vehicle.
Additionally, keep in mind that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is not always the only person responsible for injuries sustained by another person in a car accident.
If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, you need a qualified personal injury attorney on your side. For a free consultation with attorneys who know how the law works in New York, contact the experienced auto accident lawyers at Proner & Proner. We do not charge upfront legal fees in personal injury matters.