Successful Appeal to Appellate Division, Second Department

February 2019

London Fischer LLP congratulates Clifford B. Aaron and Michael B. Weiss on their successful appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Department in the matter of Cukoviq v. Iftikhar and Nissan-Infiniti LT, et al., thereby securing dismissal in favor of Nissan-Infiniti LT (“NILT”) and NILT, Inc. based upon the doctrine of Federal Preemption. 

 The Cukoviq action arose out of a vehicle/pedestrian accident which occurred on November 1, 2016, in Staten Island, New York.  As a result of the accident, plaintiff allegedly sustained serious injuries, including a left hip tear for which she underwent surgery and a traumatic brain injury. Plaintiff’s theory against NILT and NILT, Inc. was vicarious liability, pursuant to Section 388 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL), as the owner/lessor of the vehicle leased to the defendant-driver at the time of the accident, in addition to a boilerplate claim of “negligent maintenance/mechanical malfunction.”

Attorneys Clifford B. Aaron and Michael B. Weiss served a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, on the grounds that the Transportation Equity Act, codified at 49 U.S.C § 30106 (commonly referred to as the “Graves Amendment), preempted Section 388 of the VTL for owners “engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles.” The trial court denied the motion on the grounds of prematurity, citing that additional discovery might reveal independent negligence on the part of the lessors with regard to a potential “mechanical malfunction or difficulty” involving the leased vehicle. 

On appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Department, the Court issued a unanimous decision reversing the trial court’s decision on the grounds that plaintiff’s theory of negligent maintenance/mechanical defect was negated by NILT and NILT, Inc.’s evidentiary submissions, namely, the executed lease agreement and company witness Affidavit, which together confirmed that the owners/lessors did not possess, repair, maintain or service the leased vehicle at issue and that, pursuant to the terms and conditions of the lease agreement, such duties were solely the responsibility of the lessee.

This is a significant decision because it reaffirms that litigants cannot circumvent the protections afforded to owners/lessors under the Graves Amendment by alleging unsupported allegations of “negligent maintenance” or “mechanical malfunction” in an attempt to carve out an exception to the Federal Preemption statute.     

Link to Decision: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_01057.htm