On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Bergen County, Docket No. SC-745-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad and Parrillo.
Defendant Kenneth Polish appeals from a Special Civil Part judgment, following a bench trial, awarding plaintiff Victoria Secreti $674.77 in property damage, and from an order sanctioning him $100. We affirm.
This action arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on November 18, 2007 at approximately 5:45 p.m. on Lake Street in Upper Saddle River. Plaintiff's car stopped for traffic at the intersection of Lake and Spring Streets and, while stopped, was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by defendant. According to defendant, he came to a complete stop in traffic about six feet behind plaintiff's vehicle after plaintiff's vehicle stopped short, at which time he was struck in the rear by a third "phantom" vehicle. The force of that contact pushed his car into the rear of plaintiff's vehicle. Plaintiff, however, never saw any vehicle strike defendant's car or leave the scene, and believed it unlikely given the level of traffic that day.
At the conclusion of the evidence, the court found defendant liable and awarded plaintiff the amount of the property damage to her car. The judge concluded:
The court found the defendant . . . was probably overstating the distance between his vehicle and the plaintiff's vehicle at the time of the accident. To -- six feet forward and then strike another vehicle did not seem credible to this trier of fact.
Defendant was not injured . . . by the alleged hit from the phantom -- vehicle. The Court . . . found that fact rather that he wasn't injured to be consistent with the Court's belief that the defendant . . . had stopped too close to the plaintiff's vehicle.
And as a result of a minor rear-end impact he's pushed into the . . . rear of the . . . plaintiff's vehicle. Had he been stopped the five or six feet that he contended . . . the accident rather probably would not have happened because it was not that great of a hit to the rear end of the defendant's vehicle.
Furthermore, the Court determined that the plaintiff was absolutely fault free in this accident. She was stopped waiting for a vehicle and she was hit in the rear.
Defendant claims that phantom vehicle caused the accident. The Court found, however, that the accident was caused not only by the phantom vehicle, but by the defendant's failing to remain a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of him.
If he had done so when he was struck from behind he would not have impacted the vehicle . . . in front of [her] -- . . . . Thus, he failed to maintain a reasonably safe distance behind the vehicle in front of him in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-89 --Dolson v. Anastasia, again that's 55 N.J. 2 (1969), and Paiva v. Pfeiffer, 229 N.J. Super. 276 (1988).
The Court thus concluded that as a result of stopping too closely behind the plaintiff's vehicle defendant is in violation of the aforementioned ...