Plaintiff as administrator of the estate of the deceased Saldana commenced this personal injury and wrongful death action as a result of an automobile accident that occurred on October 3, 2008 on Plandome Road, Plandome, County of Nassau. The Plaintiff’s decedent, who was eighteen-years-old at the time of the car accident, died as a result of his injuries. A Nassau Lawyer said that, at the time of the accident, the Plaintiff’s decedent was a front-seat passenger in a motor vehicle operated by the defendant Guzman, and owned by the defendant Lopez. It is alleged that the defendant Guzman, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a tree as a result of drag racing with a motor vehicle operated by the Defendant, Molina, and owned by the Defendant Eldredge.
Plaintiff seek an order granting him summary judgment on the issue of liability, based upon a theory of collateral estoppel as the Defendants, Guzman and Molina, pled guilty regarding criminal charges stemming from the same incident complained of in the complaint in this action. Whereas, defendants Molina and Eldredge filed a cross-motion, seeking an order, to issue a Protective Order, suppressing the criminal transcript of Molina’s criminal court plea for purposes of this motion and any subsequent proceeding.
The issues in this case are whether plaintiff is entitled for summary judgment making the defendants liable for the wrongful death of plaintiff’s decedent; and whether defendant Molina is entitled to suppression of his criminal court plea, warranting the issuance of a protective order.
The Court must first determine whether the motion to suppress the transcript of the guilty plea of the Defendant Molina, should be granted in order to prevent the improper use of protected records.
The Defendants’ Cross-motion is being brought pursuant to CPLR § 3101 (a), which provides the following:
“Prevention of abuse. The court may at any time on its own initiative, or on motion of any party or of any person from whom discovery is sought, make a protective order denying, limiting, conditioning or regulating the use of any disclosure device. Such order shall be designed to prevent unreasonable annoyance, expense, embarrassment, disadvantage, or other prejudice to any person or the courts.”
Typically, a motion for a protective order is made before an actual disclosure of the documents sought to be protected are disclosed; hence, the title of the provision, “Prevention of abuse”. There are instances, however, where the abuse has already occurred in connection with a disclosure that has already been made. In those instances, the Court has the power to rectify the wrong pursuant to CPLR § 3103, subdivision (c). At this juncture, the appropriate procedure is to make a motion to suppress pursuant to subdivision (c) of CPLR § 3103 which states, in pertinent part, that “if any disclosure…has been improperly obtained so that a substantial right of a party is prejudiced, the court, on motion, may make an appropriate order, including an order that the information be suppressed”. Accordingly, the Court will deem the portion of the Defendants’ Cross-motion seeking a protective order brought pursuant to subdivision (c) of CPLR § 3103.
It is not disputed that the Defendant, Molina, was adjudicated as a youthful offender at the time of his plea. The parties have failed to set forth a specific requirement, or statute permitting the use of the records or specific authorization from the court which rendered the youthful adjudication status to the Defendant, Molina, that would permit this Court’s consideration of his criminal records.
Court records, while out of the court’s actual possession, are not beyond its control. This power stems from the inherent power of a court to control its own records. The confidentiality afforded by CPL § 720.35 (2) covers all court records relating to the youthful offender adjudication, including copies of records no longer in the possession of the court. Accordingly, the Cross-motion for a protective order to suppress the transcript of the Defendant, Molina’s criminal court plea is granted to the extent that those records have already been deemed confidential pursuant to CPL § 720.35.
On the issue of liability, plaintiff seeks summary judgment as against the Defendant, Molina, on the issue of liability based upon his criminal court plea. Where the court that rendered the youthful offender adjudication has not specifically authorized the disclosure of the records in question to the plaintiff, the civil court may not consider them on the plaintiff’s application for summary judgment on liability based upon those records. In light of the Court’s determination that the confidential transcript of the Defendant, Molina’s criminal court plea was improperly obtained and subsequently disclosed, the Court cannot grant summary judgment to the Plaintiff as against the Defendant, Molina, based upon a theory of collateral estoppel.
Counsel for the Plaintiff argues that, notwithstanding the youthful offender adjudication, the Defendant, Molina’s own testimony from the Examination Before Trial in the case at bar warrants summary judgment on the issue of liability in favor of the Plaintiff. In that regard, counsel for the Plaintiff relies on the Defendant, Molina’s testimony that he was operating his motor vehicle above the speed limit together with the Defendant, Guzman’s motor vehicle on Plandome Road. Moreover, counsel states that Molina’s testimony establishes that he and Guzman acted together in a particular course of conduct which created an unreasonable danger to the Plaintiff which eventually caused his wrongful death.
The Court finds that the Plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence to establish that he is entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability as against the Defendants, Molina and Eldredge. Specifically, the Plaintiff has not eliminated all issues of fact with respect to whether the Defendant Molina’s conduct was the proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s wrongful death.
Accordingly, the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability as against the Defendants, Molina and Eldredge is denied.
In support of that branch of the motion which seeks summary judgment as against the Defendants, Guzman and Lopez, the Plaintiff’s counsel submits the criminal transcript of the Defendant, Guzman, where the Defendant pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony; assault in the third degree, a misdemeanor; reckless driving, a misdemeanor; and driving while impaired, a violation. Guzman admitted in open court that he and Molina were driving separate cars, traveling in the same direction, speeding and cutting each other off when Guzman lost control of the car, crashed and caused the death of Saldana. He also admitted that he was operating the motor vehicle while his ability to drive was impaired by alcohol and in a manner that unreasonably endangered users of the public highway.
The Defendant, Guzman, also testified where he stated that he was speeding at a rate of about 60 miles per hour on Plandome Road which had a posted speed limit of 20-25 miles per hour. The Defendant, Guzman, testified that while driving at that rate of speed, he entered a curve, the car started to shimmy, he lost control and crashed into a tree. The Plaintiff’s decedent was a passenger in the motor vehicle operated by Guzman.
Counsel for the Plaintiff states that the Defendant, Guzman, is collaterally estopped from re-litigating the issues at bar as they have been previously resolved against Guzman in a prior proceeding in which he had a fair opportunity to fully litigate same. Counsel further states that the Plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability as against the Defendant, Lopez, as a matter of law pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388 , which states, in pertinent part, that “every owner of a vehicle used or operated in this state shall be liable and responsible for death or injuries to person or property resulting from negligence in the use or operation of such vehicle, in the business of such owner or otherwise, by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of such owner”.
The Defendants, in opposition to the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, state that there are issues of fact that prevent the Plaintiff’s motion from being granted, including the issues of comparative negligence and proximate cause. Specifically, the Defendants allege that the Plaintiff’s decedent was comparatively negligent in having consumed alcoholic beverages and entering into a motor vehicle with knowledge that the driver also consumed alcoholic beverages. This, the Defendants argue, puts into question whether the Defendants’ conduct, even if found to be negligent, was the proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s decedent’s death. The Defendants contend that these questions are for the jury to determine and may not be resolved at this stage of the litigation.
The Court held that the doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes a party from re-litigating an issue which has previously been decided against him in a proceeding in which he had a fair opportunity to fully litigate the point. There are two requirements which must be satisfied before the doctrine is invoked. First, the identical issue necessarily must have been decided in the prior action and be decisive of the present action, and second, the party to be precluded from re-litigating the issue must have had a full and fair opportunity to contest the prior determination. The doctrine applies whether the conviction results from a plea or a trial. The party seeking the benefit of collateral estoppel bears the burden of proving that the identical issue was necessarily decided in the prior proceeding, and is decisive of the present action.
The Defendant, Guzman’s guilty pleas to criminally negligent homicide and assault in the third degree are sufficient to collaterally estopped him from re-litigating the issue of whether his negligence was a proximate cause of the accident. However, the Plaintiff failed to establish as a matter of law that he was free from culpable conduct with regard to the causation of his injuries. The Plaintiff’s comparative negligence, if any, should be considered in the analysis as to the causation of his injuries.
The Court finds that awarding summary judgment to the Plaintiff on the issues of comparative negligence and assumption of risk is not warranted. It is for the trier of fact, and not the Court, to determine whether the Plaintiff’s conduct contributed to his injuries and to what extent, if any. The goal of summary judgment is to issue find, rather than issue determine.
In the instant matter, the sworn testimony that the Plaintiff and the Defendants consumed forty ounces of alcohol or beer prior to the incident, together with the driving while impaired guilty plea taken by the Defendant, Guzman, is sufficient to raise an issue of fact with respect to the Plaintiff’s comparative negligence and assumption of risk. The Court is not, however, making a determination at this juncture as to whether there will be sufficient evidence presented at trial to charge the jury with instructions regarding comparative negligence and assumption of risk.
Accordingly, the branch of the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as against the Defendant, Guzman, is granted only with respect to the issue of whether the Guzman’s negligence was a proximate cause of the accident. In light of the Court’s determination as against the Defendant, Guzman, the branch of the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is granted as against the Defendant, Lopez, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388 .
Losing a loved one by virtue of an automobile accident, especially during their tender age is painful. You will need the assistance of a Nassau Wrongful Death Attorney. Without a Nassau Car Accident Attorney, you will lose your rights to avail compensation to the party at fault. Nassau Personal Injury Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates can help you and will stand by your side.