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August 26, 2021

Second Department Makes a Turn From Lower Court's Collision Decision

In a case involving a collision between a truck and a bicyclist, the Appellate Division, Second Department ruled that the lower court erred in failing to instruct the jury that the truck driver was required to have signaled his intent to turn at least 100 feet before the turn.

In Moore v. New York, the plaintiff alleged that a truck ran her over while making a right turn, but the truck’s turn signal was not on when the plaintiff rode her bicycle alongside the stopped truck at a traffic light. The truck driver claimed that he put his signal on while at the stop light, and when the light turned green, he made the turn as the plaintiff, unseen to the truck driver, proceeded straight. At trial, the truck driver argued that because his vehicle was stopped at a traffic light, Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1163(d), which states that a parked vehicle does not have to signal its movement 100 feet before turning, was applicable. The trial court agreed and charged the jury accordingly.

The jury found that the defendant was not negligent and a judgment was entered in his favor, dismissing the complaint. The Second Department reversed the decision, and ruled that the defendant was, in fact, required to signal his intention to turn right 100 feet before the turn pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1163(b) because there were no exceptions for vehicles temporarily stopped at a traffic light.

When language in a statute is clear and unambiguous, it should be interpreted to give effect to the plain and simple meaning of the words. The statute, simply stated, required the defendant to signal his intention to turn at least 100 feet before the actual turn. Moreover, the court clarified the difference between a parked vehicle and a vehicle temporarily stopped at a traffic light.

The court reinstated the complaint and is remitting the matter to the Supreme Court in Queens County for a new trial.

The Moore decision reinforces the long-standing principle in New York State: that courts are obligated to interpret a statute to determine the meaning of the intent of the legislature, but when a statute’s wording is direct and apparent, its plain meaning must be applied. The decision will no doubt have an impact on transportation, trucking, and vehicular and automobile matters, but it also serves as assurance of the courts’ continued obligation to construe the words of a statute per their plain and obvious meaning.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Elizabeth Vulaj, associate, at evulaj@barclaydamon.com; Matthew Larkin, partner, at mlarkin@barclaydamon.com; or another member of the Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area.

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