Diassinos v. Oliveira Contracting, Inc. et al
OPINION & ORDER re: 43 MOTION for Summary Judgment, filed by Oliveira Contracting, Inc., Thomas H. Martins, 40 MOTION to Strike the Report and Expert Testimony of Defendants' Expert Ali M. Sadegh, filed by Stacey Diassinos. The Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Plaintiff's Motion to Strike and DENIES Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to terminate the motions at ECF Nos. 40 and 43. (Signed by Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn on 9/7/2021) (ras)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
OPINION & ORDER
-againstOLIVEIRA CONTRACTING, INC., et al.,
SARAH NETBURN, United States Magistrate Judge:
Plaintiff Stacey Diassinos (“Plaintiff”) alleges that Defendants’ negligence proximately
caused a serious injury to her shin because Defendant Thomas Martins (“Martins”) failed to
exercise due care and caution in operating a vehicle in accordance with the Vehicle and Traffic
Laws of the State of New York. Plaintiff seeks $15 million for her physical pain, mental anguish,
and economic loss from Martins and his employer, Defendant Oliveira Contracting (together,
Defendants move for summary judgment. They argue that Plaintiff’s negligence per se
was the sole proximate cause of the accident and that Martins was not negligent. Diassinos
moves to strike the report and expert testimony of Defendants’ expert, Dr. Ali M. Sadegh. She
argues that Dr. Sadegh’s report is unreliable and prejudicial under Rule 702 and Rule 403 of the
Federal Rules of Evidence.
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is DENIED and Plaintiff’s motion to strike is
DENIED in part.
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The facts are taken from Defendants’ Local Civil Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts and are
undisputed unless otherwise noted.
The accident occurred on July 2, 2019, around noon on East 70th Street between Second
and Third Avenues in New York, New York. See Defendant’s Rule 56.1 Statement (“R. 56.1
Stmt.”) (ECF No. 43, Ex. 25) at ¶ 1. At the time, Plaintiff, a resident of Florida, was visiting her
friend, Jennifer Kamrowski, who lived on 70th Street in New York. Id. Just before the accident,
Plaintiff was packing a rental car, a black, four-door sedan, like a Toyota. Id. at ¶ 2. The rental
car was doubled parked on East 70th Street, with the driver’s side of the car facing the roadway.
Id. at ¶¶ 2–3. The traffic traveled west to east on the one-way street. Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 15:1416 (ECF No. 47, Ex. 7). At the time of the accident, Martins was driving a van that was pulling a
compressor that was narrower than the van. Martins Dep. Tr. at 21:19-22:2 (ECF No. 42, Ex. 8).
Martins was employed as a union laborer with Oliveira Contracting and had driven this van daily
for two and a half months before the accident. Id. at 5:14-18; R. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 7.
Right before the accident, Plaintiff put a suitcase in the trunk of the rental car and then
walked to the driver’s side to put a backpack in the back seat of the rental car. See R. 56.1 Stmt.
at ¶ 4. Plaintiff explained that she closed the rear driver’s side door “onto her body so traffic
would pass.” Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 29:22-30:9, 40:7-13. Martins asserted that he saw Plaintiff
while she was near the rental car, but the parties disagree regarding where Plaintiff was exactly
when Martins first noticed her. See R. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 8; P’s Counter-Rule 56.1 Statement
(“Counter-R. 56.1 Stmt.”) at ¶¶ 4, 8 (ECF No. 48); Martins Dep. Tr. at 32:17-33:8, 34:2-6. While
she was waiting for the traffic to pass, Plaintiff saw the van at least three-car lengths away to the
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west. Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 28:21-29:6. The rear driver’s side door was not fully open at the time.
Id. at 30:23.
Plaintiff does not know what hit her, but her lower left leg was struck after the van passed
her while she was standing in between the body of the rental car and the car door. R. 56.1 Stmt.
at ¶ 6; Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 57:8-16:22. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts she was hit on her “shin,
just above her ankle.” Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 58:7-8. Plaintiff was transported via ambulance to
the emergency room where she underwent emergency surgery to stabilize her leg. Id. at 68:769:21.
Pictures from the accident scene show Defendants’ blue van pulling a yellow Kaeser
compressor; the compressor appears narrower than the van, but the wheel wells of the
compressor stick out farther than the body of the compressor. See, e g., ECF No. 43, Exs. 9, 14,
15; see also R. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 7. After the accident, the bottom of the rear driver’s side door was
caught on the wheel well of the compressor, and the widest part of the door was in contact with
the body of the compressor. See, e.g., ECF No. 43, Ex. 14.
The parties contest several facts that are material to Plaintiff’s negligence claim as well as
what actually caused Plaintiff’s injury. Plaintiff believes “it was a part of the trailer that grabbed
[her] leg and twisted [her] to the east.” Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 31:17-19, 57:8-16. According to
Plaintiff, she checked to make sure that there was no oncoming traffic before opening the door “a
little bit” to put the backpack into the rear driver’s side seat of the car. See id. at 33:20-25, 34:810. After putting the backpack in the car, Plaintiff testified that she also looked to the west see if
it was safe to shut the door and that was when the traffic began to flow. Id. at 34:15-18. While
Plaintiff waited for the traffic to pass in order to shut the door and walk away, she closed the car
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door on herself, with the door about a quarter open. Id. at 29:25-30:9, 34:15-24. Multiple
vehicles passed before she saw the van and compressor. Id. at 35:19-22.
Defendants assert that Martins first took notice of the rental car when he was
approximately 200–300 feet away from it. Martins Dep. Tr. at 31:9-11. Martins testified that he
saw Plaintiff when she was behind the rental car at the trunk, and that he never saw her move to
the side of the car. Id. at 32:23-25, 36:5, 38:18-20. Martins also asserted that the passenger side
of the van was 3 to 4 feet away from where he last saw Plaintiff standing, therefore the side of
the compressor would have been 4 to 4½ feet from Plaintiff, leading him to believe that he had
sufficient room to pass her safely. Id. at 38:2-17. He further testified that he was going about 10
mph when he passed Plaintiff. Id. at 64:24-25. He also testified that two to three seconds elapsed
from the time the front of the van passed where he last saw Plaintiff standing until he heard
Plaintiff scream. Id. at 41:3-12. Plaintiff, on the other hand, estimated the speed of the van at 25–
30 mph. Diassinos Dep. Tr at 39:3-6. Kamrowski estimated the van was going 5–10 mph, but
stated that she does not have a “perception for speed.” Kamrowski Dep. Tr. at 19:18-22 (ECF
No. 47, Ex. 9).
According to Defendants, the trailer was straight behind the van after the accident, which
they contend indicates that the van did not change its direction during the accident. Martins Dep.
Tr. at 44:17-20; see ECF No. 55 at 5. Plaintiff contends that the photographs show that “the van
and compressor clearly angled to the right.” ECF No. 41 at 18; ECF No. 42, Ex. 4.
Plaintiff filed the Complaint in August 2019 and amended it in January 2020. See ECF
Nos. 5, 20. Plaintiff alleged her injury was solely caused by Defendants’ negligence because
Martins failed to exercise due care and caution in operating the vehicle in accordance with the
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Vehicle and Traffic Laws of the State of New York. See ECF No. 20 at ¶ 15. Plaintiff seeks $15
million for her physical pain, mental anguish, and economic loss. See id. at ¶ 21.
The parties consented to my jurisdiction on February 28, 2020. See ECF No. 28.
Plaintiff moves to strike the report of Defendants’ expert, Dr. Sadegh, who opined that
Plaintiff’s negligence was the sole proximate cause for the accident. See ECF No. 40; ECF No.
42, Ex. 1 (Exhibit A, “Sadegh Report”).
Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff’s negligence was
the sole proximate cause of the accident, and that Martins was not negligent at all. See ECF No.
43, Ex. 24.
Motion to Strike
Plaintiff moves to exclude the report and expert testimony of Defendants’ expert, Dr. Ali
M. Sadegh, under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals,
Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), as well as Rule 403.
Standard of Admissibility
Expert testimony is admissible when:
(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge
will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine
a fact in issue; (b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods;
and (d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to
the facts of the case.
Fed. R. Evid. 702. In applying Rule 702, a district court must ensure that an expert’s testimony
“rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597. The
factors a court should consider, therefore, “depend upon the particular circumstances of the
particular case at issue.” Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 150 (1999).
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A court must “undertake a rigorous examination of the facts on which the expert relies,
the method by which the expert draws an opinion from those facts, and how the expert applies
the facts and methods to the case at hand.” Amorgianos v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 303 F.3d
256, 267 (2d Cir. 2002). When conducting its analysis, the district court “must focus on the
principles and methodology employed by the expert, without regard to the conclusions the expert
has reached or the district court’s belief as to the correctness of those conclusions.” Id. at 266
(citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595). Nonetheless, “conclusions and methodology are not entirely
distinct from one another,” and “nothing in either Daubert or the Federal Rules of Evidence
requires a district court to admit opinion evidence that is connected to existing data only by the
ipse dixit of the expert.” Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 146 (1997). Accordingly, a
district court may exclude expert testimony if it determines that “there is simply too great an
analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered.” Id. (citation omitted).
Exclusion of expert testimony is warranted only when the district court finds “serious
flaws in reasoning or methodology.” In re Fosamax Prods. Liab. Litig., 645 F. Supp. 2d 164, 173
(S.D.N.Y. 2009) (citing Amorgianos, 303 F.3d at 267); see also Borawick v. Shay, 68 F.3d 597,
610 (2d Cir. 1995) (noting that there is “a presumption of admissibility of evidence”). Therefore,
a trial judge should exclude expert testimony based on reliability concerns only “if it is
speculative or conjectural or based on assumptions that are so unrealistic and contradictory as to
suggest bad faith or to be in essence an apples and oranges comparison.” Zerega Ave. Realty
Corp. v. Hornbeck Offshore Transp., LLC, 571 F.3d 206, 213–14 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting
Boucher v. U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp., 73 F.3d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1996)) (internal quotation marks
omitted). “Other contentions that the assumptions are unfounded go to the weight, not the
admissibility, of the testimony.” Id. at 214 (quoting Boucher, 73 F.3d at 21); see also Raskin v.
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Wyatt Co., 125 F.3d 55, 66 (2d Cir. 1997) (noting that “disputes as to the validity of the
underlying data go to the weight of the evidence, and are for the fact-finder to resolve” (citation
omitted)). “Vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful
instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky
but admissible evidence.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596. “[T]he proponent of expert testimony has
the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the admissibility requirements
under Rule 702 are satisfied . . . .” United States v. Williams, 506 F.3d 151, 160 (2d Cir. 2007).
“Because the purpose of summary judgment is to weed out cases in which there is no
genuine issues as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter
of law, it is appropriate for district courts to decide questions regarding the admissibility of
evidence on summary judgment,” including the admissibility of expert evidence. Raskin, 125
F.3d at 66 (cleaned up). Indeed, as the “gatekeeper for expert testimony,” the court “performs the
same role at the summary judgment phase as at trial; an expert’s report is not a talisman against
summary judgment.” Id.
Dr. Ali M. Sadegh’s Report and Expert Testimony
Defendants have proffered Dr. Ali M. Sadegh as an expert in accident reconstruction and
biomechanical analysis. See Sadegh Report at 1; ECF No. 42, Ex. 1 at 18–66 (Exhibit B, Dr.
Sadegh’s Curriculum Vitae). Dr. Sadegh concludes that the accident was caused because
Plaintiff opened the driver’s side rear door of the rental car (the “Toyota”), not by Martins’s
operation of the van. See Sadegh Report at 10–11. 1
Dr. Sadegh listed 11 opinions in his expert report: (1) “The speed of the van/compressor
at [the] time of the accident w[as] less than [five] mph”; (2) “The van was traveling at more than
The page numbers refer to the pages of the report at the bottom center of the page.
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approximately [three] feet away from the Toyota. The driver of the van drove the van as
expected with sufficient space from the Toyota”; (3) “The Toyota was double parked without
having emergency light[s] on”; (4) Plaintiff “was standing between the door and the car while
the front of the van was passing” and “[t]he door was approximately one foot away from the
car”; considering the width of Plaintiff’s body, “there was more than [two] feet [of] clearance
between the van and the door”; if Plaintiff had not opened the door farther out, the van and the
compressor “would have passed her without any contact”; (5) Plaintiff “open[ed] the door when
the rear end of the van just pas[sed] her,” “thinking that she had enough space for opening the
Toyota’s door”; (6) Plaintiff “was not attentive to the tires of the compressor and opened the
door before the compressor had completely passed her”; (7) when the car door was “snagged by
the compressor,” Plaintiff’s “both hands were on the door” and she “tried to hold on to the door
and thus, she stepped forward with her left foot contacting the right tire of the compressor[,]
ca[u]sing fracture of her distal tibia and fibula”; (8) “[t]he compressor did not sway and was in
line with the van and had sufficient distance from the Toyota”; (9) the accident was “a lowspeed sideswipe contact” and the lateral force “transferred from the van/compressor to the
Toyota was insignificant; (10) Plaintiff “was inattentive to the slow moving vehicle (the van) and
in particular to the tires of the compressor”; and (11) “the van had sufficient distance from the
Toyota and was passing through at a low speed,” so Plaintiff’s injuries “would not have occurred
had [she] been attentive to the slow-moving traffic and had not opened the Toyota’s door before
the compressor had passed.” See Sadegh Report at 11.
Plaintiff challenges both the reliability and relevance of Dr. Sadegh’s expert testimony. 2
Dr. Sadegh has been deemed to be a qualified expert in this field by other courts in this District,
As Defendants observe, Plaintiff filed a 30-page memorandum of law in support of her motion to strike,
in violation of this Court’s Individual Rules of Practice Part 2(e) (effective April 1, 2020), which requires
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and Plaintiff does not challenge his qualifications for the purposes of her motion to strike. See
ECF No. 42, Ex. 1 at 1–2; ECF No. 41 at 16.
1. Plaintiff’s Reliance on the Declaration of Michael O’Connor
Defendants challenge Plaintiff’s reliance on Michael O’Connor, a veteran of the Accident
Investigation Squad of the New York City Police Department, to rebut the findings in Dr.
Sadegh’s expert report. See ECF No. 49 at 2–4. Defendants assert that O’Connor’s declaration
should be precluded because Plaintiff disclosed him as a liability expert in an untimely manner.
Id. Plaintiff denies that O’Connor’s declaration is a liability expert report, contending that “he is
not opining on the facts or liability, but discussing the science of accident reconstruction, and
explaining factual foundations and accepted methods.” See ECF No. 54 at 3. In his declaration,
O’Connor explains that he was retained “to study and opine on the methods employed” by Dr.
Sadegh. See ECF No. 42, Ex. 2 at ¶ 6. In brief, O’Connor attacks Dr. Sadegh’s opinion as
unreliable and not based on acceptable scientific methods. O’Connor does not render an opinion
about how the accident occurred. His opinion merely identifies areas ripe for cross-examination.
Indeed, in response to the O’Connor Declaration, Dr. Sadegh submitted a supplemental
declaration, which responds to some of O’Connor’s challenges.
Because O’Connor is not a testifying expert, he was not required to submit an expert
report. Instead, the Court considers O’Connor an expert employed only for trial preparation. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(4)(D). In this capacity, he is qualified to consult with Plaintiff’s counsel,
but he is not qualified to render any opinion that the Court can rely upon. Accordingly,
O’Connor’s declaration is inadmissible for purposes of the Court’s consideration. The Court,
memoranda of law to be “limited to 25 double-spaced pages.” Plaintiff filed her over-long brief without
permission and is admonished to adhere to page limits in the future.
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however, would reach the same conclusion with respect to the admissibility of Sadegh’s
testimony even if the O’Connor declaration were considered.
2. Reliability of the Proposed Testimony of Dr. Sadegh
Plaintiff challenges nearly all of Dr. Sadegh’s opinions on the basis that they fail to
satisfy Rule 702 and the standard established in Daubert. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that
opinions 1–8 and 10–11 are not reliable because they lack a factual basis or are not based on any
Plaintiff does not challenge Dr. Sadegh’s qualifications. ECF No. 41 at 16. Dr. Sadegh
holds several degrees in mechanical engineering and is currently the Founder and Director of
The Center for Advanced Engineering Design and Development and a Professor of Mechanical
Engineering within the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The City College of the City
University of New York. ECF No. 42, Ex. 1 (Exhibit B). As such, he “has extensive experience,
education, and knowledge in the . . . engineering field and also reviewed relevant literature.”
Figueroa v. Boston Scientific Corp., 254 F. Supp. 2d 361, 368 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). Accordingly, the
reliability inquiry may “‘focus upon personal knowledge and experience’ of the expert.” Bah v.
Nordson Corp., No. 00-cv-09060 (DAB), 2005 WL 1813023, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2005)
(quoting Kumho Tire, 527 U.S. at 150). In addition, Dr. Sadegh’s area of expertise is wellestablished such that the Court’s gatekeeping role is not concerned about “novel scientific
evidence” or opinion evidence “approaching the outer boundaries of traditional scientific and
technological knowledge.” Figueroa, 254 F. Supp. 2d at 368–69 (first quoting Daubert, 509 U.S.
at 585, and then quoting Lappe v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 857 F. Supp. 222, 228 (S.D.N.Y.
1994)). Therefore, generally, doubts as to Dr. Sadegh’s testimony should be resolved through
“[v]igorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the
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burden of proof[, which] are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but
admissible evidence.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596.
The majority of Plaintiff’s challenges are better left for cross-examination and jury
arguments. For example, Plaintiff challenges Dr. Sadegh’s conclusion that the van was travelling
at five miles per hour because it is inconsistent with the deposition testimony and because Dr.
Sadegh did not support that conclusion with scientific methodology. But in his expert report, he
notes the minor damage of the vehicle and the testimony of Ms. Kamrowski as a basis for his
conclusion. Dr. Sadegh’s supplemental declaration provides further analysis. Similarly, Plaintiff
challenges various assumed measurements because they were not based on scientific methods
such as photogrammetry to measure the distance between the van and the Toyota or any studies
to estimate Plaintiff’s body width. These challenges are fair but are a ground for cross
examination, not exclusion. Indeed, Plaintiff may consult with O’Connor to prepare for such
examination to test the conclusions that Dr. Sadegh renders.
Certain conclusions, however, should be excluded because they are either improper
bolstering of facts or express an opinion for which Dr. Sadegh is plainly not qualified. Boucher,
73 F.3d at 21 (“[E]xpert testimony should be excluded if it is speculative or conjectural.”
(citation omitted)). Dr. Sadegh asserted that “the Toyota was double parked without having
emergency light[s] on.” Sadegh Report at 11. The fact that the Toyota was double parked is
uncontested, and Plaintiff, Martins, and Kamrowski all testified that they did not recall if the
emergency lights of the Toyota were on. See R. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 3; Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 37:9-14;
Martins Dep. Tr. at 43:11-13; Kamrowski Dep. Tr. at 49:22-23. Thus, this opinion is speculative
and does not assist the trier of fact.
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Dr. Sadegh also weaves into his expert conclusions about the Plaintiff’s mental state. He
concludes that she was “not attentive” or was “thinking that she had enough space.” Sadegh
Report at 11. These opinions on Plaintiff’s state of mind are “guess[es] about what happened . . .
not based upon sufficient facts or data, as is required of expert testimony.” Est. of Ratcliffe v.
Pradera Realty Co., No. 05-cv-10272 (JFK), 2008 WL 53115, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 2, 2008)
(cleaned up); Colon v. Abbott Labs., 397 F. Supp. 2d 405, 413–14 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (excluding
expert testimony and granting summary judgment where the expert provided speculative
opinions on causation). These opinions are thus unreliable as to whether Plaintiff negligently
opened the Toyota’s door and caused the accident. Dr. Sadegh may, however, testify to how he
believes the accident occurred based on his experience as a mechanical engineer. Thus, his
opinion about how the car door was hit and what Plaintiff’s body likely did in response to that
force is within his area of expertise and should be subject to cross examination.
Thus, the Court strikes as inadmissible Dr. Sadegh’s opinion that the Toyota was double
parked without having emergency lights on (Opinion 3); that Plaintiff “was thinking she had
enough space for opening the Toyota’s door” (Opinion 5, in part); that Plaintiff was “not
attentive” (Opinion 6, in part), “inattentive” (Opinion 10, in part), or that the accident would not
have occurred if Plaintiff was “attentive” (Opinion 11, in part). All other opinions are admissible
and should be subject to cross examination.
Finally, Dr. Sadegh’s testimony easily satisfies the relevance standard. For expert
testimony to be admissible, the court must conclude that it can “help the trier of fact to
understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue.” Fed. R. Evid. 702(a); see Daubert, 509
U.S. at 597; see also Scott v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., 315 F.R.D. 33, 43 (S.D.N.Y. 2016)
(citing In re Rezulin Prods. Liab. Litig., 309 F. Supp. 2d 531, 540 (S.D.N.Y. 2004)). Evidence is
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relevant if it has “any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the
determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the
evidence.” Fed. R. Evid. 401. The Daubert Court described this consideration as one of “fit,”
requiring a “valid scientific connection” between the subject matter of the expert’s testimony and
the factual issues to be determined by the jury. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 591–92.
Expert testimony, however, “should not merely reiterate arguments based on inferences
that can be drawn by laypersons; those can properly be advanced by the parties in their
summations.” In re Zyprexa Prods. Liab. Lit., 489 F. Supp. 2d 230, 283 (E.D.N.Y. 2007).
Neither should it comprise conclusory testimony that “undertakes to tell the jury what result to
reach . . . [or] attempts to substitute the expert’s judgment for the jury’s.” Id. (quoting United
States v. Duncan, 42 F.3d 97, 101 (2d Cir. 1994)) (alterations in original); see also Duncan, 42
F.3d at 101 (“In evaluating the admissibility of expert testimony, this Court requires the
exclusion of testimony which states a legal conclusion.”). Rather, expert testimony is relevant if
it is “likely to substantially assist the average person in understanding the case—even if it simply
explains facts and evidence already in the record.” In re Zyprexa, 489 F. Supp. 2d at 283.
Finally, relevant evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially
outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.” United States v. Bermudez, 529 F.3d 158, 161
(2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Fed. R. Evid. 403). District courts have broad discretion to balance
probative value against possible prejudice. Id. (citing United States v. LaFlam, 369 F.3d 153, 155
(2d Cir. 2004)).
Having excluded as unreliable Dr. Sadegh’s opinions regarding the double-parked
vehicle and the absence of emergency lights, as well as his opinion that the accident was caused
by Plaintiff’s negligence (or inattentiveness), the balance of Dr. Sadegh’s opinion will assist the
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jury in understanding the accident. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s motion to strike Dr. Sadegh’s expert
testimony in full is denied.
Defendants move for summary judgment, asserting that Plaintiff failed to establish a
prima facie case of Martins’s negligence, and that Plaintiff’s negligence in opening the car door,
in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law (“V.T.L.”) § 1214, is negligence per se and the sole
proximate cause of the accident. See ECF No. 43, Ex. 24. Plaintiff contends Martins breached his
duty as a driver under V.T.L. § 1146(a), that she did not violate V.T.L. § 1214, and that the
presence of disputed material issues of fact precludes summary judgment. See ECF No. 46.
A. Standard of Review under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the Court “shall grant summary judgment if
the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986). The moving party must show that “under the governing law, there can
be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 250 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing that there are no
material facts in dispute and must provide “affirmative evidence” from which a factfinder could
return a verdict in its favor. Id. at 257. Then “the burden shifts to the nonmovant to point to
record evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact.” Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263,
273 (2d Cir. 2006). “[T]he trial court’s task at the summary judgment motion stage of the
litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact
to be tried, not deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does
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not extend to issue-resolution.” Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224
(2d Cir. 1994).
In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court must resolve all
ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). Summary judgment is improper if “there is
any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in
favor of the nonmoving party.” Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir.
1994). To create a disputed fact sufficient to deny summary judgment, the non-moving party
must produce evidence in the record and “may not rely simply on conclusory statements or on
contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible.” Ying Jing Gan v. City of
New York, 996 F.2d 522, 532 (2d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). Instead, the response “must set
forth specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Wright v. Goord, 554
F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Summary judgment
is only warranted when “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find
for the non-moving party, [and thus] there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting First Nat’l Bank of Arizona v.
Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)).
For personal injury claims based on negligence, their “fact-dependent nature” means that
they “must usually be resolved by the fact-finder.” Duncalf v. Swamsington, No. 05-cv-07020
(PAC), 2007 WL 2387968, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 21, 2007) (citing Derdiarian v. Felix
Contracting Corp., 51 N.Y.2d 308, 315 (1980)). “[A] defendant may obtain summary judgment
by demonstrating the plaintiff’s conduct was the sole proximate cause of the accident and an
absence of evidence on the defendant’s negligence.” Reyes v. United States, No. 19-cv-05325
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(KHP), 2021 WL 1639370, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 26, 2021) (citing Allison v. Rite Aid Corp., 812
F. Supp. 2d 565, 568 (S.D.N.Y. 2011)).
B. New York Negligence Law
When a court’s jurisdiction is based on diversity, the law of the forum state is applied.
See Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938); see also Allison, 812 F. Supp. 2d at 568
(“Because the parties have relied on New York State law in presenting their arguments to this
Court, we assume that New York law applies to this diversity action.”).
Plaintiff alleges that Martins was negligent in the accident and breached his duty as a
driver under V.T.L. § 1146(a). See ECF No. 46 at 15–16; ECF No. 20. Defendants argue that
Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of Martins’s negligence. See ECF No. 43, Ex.
24. Pursuant to V.T.L. § 1146(a),
Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law to the contrary,
every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding
with any bicyclist, pedestrian, or domestic animal upon any roadway
and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary.
The “failure to obey the Vehicle and Traffic Law constitutes negligence per se.” Peralta v.
Quintero, 20 F. Supp. 3d 462, 464–65 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (citing Barbieri v. Vokoun, 72 A.D.3d
853, 856 (2d Dep’t 2010)), adhered to as amended, No. 12-cv-03864 (FM), 2015 WL 362917
(S.D.N.Y. Jan. 26, 2015), aff’d, 669 F. App’x 64 (2d Cir. 2016). In the alternative, Plaintiff can
also allege negligence by proving that Martins (1) owed Plaintiff a duty of care; (2) breached that
duty; and (3) that the breach proximately caused Plaintiff’s injury. See Kane v. United States,
189 F. Supp. 2d 40, 51 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). Drivers in New York have the duty “to operate their
automobiles with reasonable care, taking into account the actual and potential dangers existing
from weather, road, traffic and other conditions.” Peralta, 20 F. Supp. 3d at 464 (quoting Hodder
v. United States, 328 F. Supp. 2d 335, 341 (E.D.N.Y. 2004)). Courts also “impose upon every
Case 1:19-cv-07841-SN Document 59 Filed 09/07/21 Page 17 of 22
driver a requirement to see that which she ‘should have seen’ through the proper use of her
senses.” Thomas v. O’Brien, No. 08-cv-03250 (RLM), 2010 WL 785999, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Feb.
26, 2010) (first citing Goemans v. Cty. of Suffolk, 57 A.D.3d 478, 479 (2d Dep’t 2008), then
citing Miller v. Richardson, 48 A.D.3d 1298, 1300 (4th Dep’t 2008)). “While negligence cases
do not generally lend themselves to resolution by motion for summary judgment, such a motion
will be granted where . . . the facts clearly point to the negligence of one party without any fault
or culpable conduct by the other party.” Spence v. Lake Serv. Station, Inc., 13 A.D.3d 276, 277–
78 (1st Dep’t 2004) (quoting Morowitz v. Naughton, 150 A.D.2d 536, 537 (2d Dep’t 1989)).
Of course, an accident can have multiple proximate causes, and under N.Y. CPLR
§ 1411, “liability is split between plaintiffs and defendants based on the relative culpability and
causal significance of their conduct.” Integrated Waste Servs., Inc. v. Akzo Nobel Salt, Inc., 113
F.3d 296, 300 (2d Cir. 1997) (citing N.Y. CPLR § 1411). Here, Defendants argue that Plaintiff
was negligent per se because she violated V.T.L. § 1214. See ECF No. 43, Ex. 24 at 7–9.
Pursuant to V.T.L. § 1214,
No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side
available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to
do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of
other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a
vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than
necessary to load or unload passengers.
“New York courts have recognized that, as a general matter, a person who opens a vehicle door
into the path of oncoming traffic violates V.T.L. § 1214 and is therefore negligent.” Reyes, 2021
WL 1639370, at *3 (citation omitted). Defendants also argue that Plaintiff’s negligence is the
sole proximate cause of her injury, negating proximate causation between Martins’s action and
Plaintiff’s injury. A defendant can establish that he is entitled to summary judgment if he negates
proximate causation. See Borges v. Zukowski, 22 A.D.3d 439, 439 (2d Dep’t 2005).
Case 1:19-cv-07841-SN Document 59 Filed 09/07/21 Page 18 of 22
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Martins’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of
Plaintiff’s injury. Plaintiff asserts that Martins operated the van at an excessive rate of speed,
failed to keep a safe distance from Plaintiff, failed to bring the van to a stop to avoid injuring
Plaintiff, and violated New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law. Defendants argue that Plaintiff
violated V.T.L. § 1214, which constitutes negligence per se, that Plaintiff’s action is the sole
proximate cause of the accident, and that there is no evidence that Martins was negligent. Thus,
the question before the Court is whether, drawing all reasonable references in favor of Plaintiff, a
reasonable juror could find that Plaintiff’s conduct was not the sole proximate cause of the
The undisputed evidence shows that, before the accident, Plaintiff closed the rental car’s
door onto her body so traffic could pass, and she saw Defendants’ van at least three-car lengths
away to the west. Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 28:21-29:6, 29:22-30:9, 40:7-13. Plaintiff’s left shin was
struck after the van had passed her while she was standing in between the body of the rental car
and the rear driver’s side passenger door. Id. at 30:20. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts she was hit
on her “shin, just above her ankle.” Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 58:7-8. After the accident, the bottom
of the door was caught on the wheel well of the compressor, and the widest part of the door was
in contact with the body of the compressor. See, e.g., ECF No. 43, Ex. 14.
Plaintiff testified that she checked the traffic before opening the door of the rental car and
putting the backpack into the Toyota, and she checked the traffic again after putting the backpack
in the car. Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 33:20-25, 34:8-10. She closed the door onto her body because
she saw the traffic had begun heading east; she waited for the traffic to pass so that she could
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shut the door and walk away. Id. at 29:25-30:9, 34:15-24. Plaintiff also testified that multiple
vehicles passed before she saw the van and compressor. Id. at 35:19-22.
A court sitting in summary judgment “should not . . . assess the credibility of witnesses”
because “these determinations are within the sole province of the jury.” Hayes v. N.Y.C. Dep’t
of Corr., 84 F.3d 614, 619 (2d Cir. 1996) (first citing United States v. Rem, 38 F.3d 634, 644 (2d
Cir. 1994), and then citing Azrielli v. Cohen L. Offs., 21 F.3d 512, 517 (2d Cir. 1994)). If
Plaintiff’s credibility is assumed, her testimony demonstrates that she was attentive to the traffic
before the accident for a time long enough to let multiple vehicles pass before she was struck by
Defendants’ vehicle. Plaintiff did not mention any potential reason why she might not be able to
focus on the traffic. Cf. Reyes, 2021 WL 1639370, at *4 (noting that Plaintiff was not attentive
to the traffic because she was late for school and was focused on closing the car door). Nor did
she indicate that she “did not see what she should have seen.” See id. at *6. Moreover, Plaintiff
never mentioned that she opened the Toyota’s door again before she was struck. The evidence in
this case does not indisputably demonstrate that Plaintiff negligently “open[ed] the door of a
motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic” when it is not “reasonably safe to do so”
according to V.T.L. § 1214. Plaintiff testified that she checked the traffic before and after putting
the backpack into the backseat of the Toyota, and she was injured when she was waiting for the
traffic to pass. Diassinos Dep. Tr. at 33:20-35:4. Plaintiff’s testimony provides a nonnegligent
explanation of what happened. Compare Paulino v. MTA Bus Co., 190 A.D.3d 652, 652 (1st
Dep’t 2021) (concluding that summary judgment was improper when there was “evidence that
plaintiff opened the door while traffic was stopped and that there was sufficient room for cars to
pass without hitting him or his car,” even though the door was “on the side available to moving
traffic”), with Rincon v. Renaud, 186 A.D.3d 1551 (2d Dep’t 2020) (granting summary judgment
Case 1:19-cv-07841-SN Document 59 Filed 09/07/21 Page 20 of 22
because the passenger failed to provide a nonnegligent explanation for opening the door in
violation of V.T.L. § 1214 and hitting a passing bicyclist). Drawing all reasonable references in
favor of Plaintiff, a reasonable juror could find that Plaintiff did not violate V.T.L. § 1214 and
was not negligent per se. See Reyes, 2021 WL 1639370, at *5 (collecting cases involving the
opening of a car door into traffic).
Yet even if a jury could find Plaintiff negligent, that is not enough for Defendants to
prevail on their summary judgment motion. Defendants also need to show that Plaintiff’s
conduct was “the sole proximate cause of the accident” and “an absence of evidence [of] the
defendant’s negligence.” Id. at *4 (emphasis added); see Gray v. Wackenhut Services, Inc., 446
F. App’x 352, 354 (2d Cir. 2011) (finding that summary judgment was warranted where
undisputed evidence demonstrated Plaintiff’s negligence per se due to a violation of V.T.L.
Here, there are at least three genuine issues of fact remaining for the jury to decide, and
all of them concern material facts that could lead a reasonable juror to find Martins negligent. Cf.
Smith v. City of New York, 179 A.D.3d 500, 501 (1st Dep’t 2020) (holding that the plaintiff
failed to raise any triable issue of fact as to whether defendant bus driver was negligent in failing
to see what was there to be seen). First, genuine issues of fact exist as to whether the clearance
between the van and the rental car was enough for the van and compressor to pass Plaintiff
without striking her. Martins testified that he believed the passenger side of the van was 3–4 feet
away from where he last saw Plaintiff standing, meaning the side of the compressor would have
been 4–4½ feet from Plaintiff, and the reason why he thought he had enough space to pass
Plaintiff safely. But Plaintiff’s analysis suggests that the compressor was only 14 to 16 inches
from the rental car. ECF No. 41 at 17. If Martins misjudged the clearance between the vehicles, a
Case 1:19-cv-07841-SN Document 59 Filed 09/07/21 Page 21 of 22
reasonable jury could find that he did not use his “senses” properly and was thus negligent. See
Moe v. United States, 668 F. Supp. 2d 497, 507 (W.D.N.Y. 2009) (citing LeClaire v. Pratt, 270
A.D.2d 612, 613 (3rd Dep’t 2000) (holding that the motorist, with proper use of her senses,
should have seen what was approaching so closely as to present an “immediate hazard”)).
Second, genuine issues of fact exist as to Martins’s speed before the accident. Plaintiff
estimated the van’s speed at 25–30 miles per hour, but Martins testified that he was going about
10 miles per hour. A reasonable jury could find that Martins traveled at a speed not slow enough
for him to accurately estimate the clearance between the vehicles and to bring the van to a stop
before Plaintiff was struck.
A third genuine issue of fact exist as to whether Martins changed the direction of the van
in a failed attempt to avoid Plaintiff. Martins suggests that the van did not change its direction
during the accident, leaving the trailer straight behind it after the accident. Martins Dep. Tr. at
44:20. Plaintiff contends that the photos show that the van and compressor clearly angled to the
right and points to Kamrowski’s testimony, where she hypothesized that the van veered to the
left to get around the rental car, making the compressor move to the right. Kamrowski Dep. Tr.
at 23:3-9. Dr. Sadegh asserts that the van was parallel with the Toyota. Sadegh Report at 7. If the
jury finds that Martins veered the van and caused the compressor to veer right, his actions, rather
than Plaintiff’s, could be found to have violated the VTL by failing to “exercise due care to avoid
colliding with” a pedestrian.” V.T.L. § 1146(a).
Based on the disputed issues of fact regarding the distance between the vehicles, the
speed of the van, and the possible direction change of the van, the “record demonstrates
questions of fact as to [Martins’s] comparative” or sole negligence, thereby precluding summary
judgment. Nevarez v. S.R.M. Mgmt. Corp., 58 A.D.3d 295, 297–98 (1st Dep’t 2008).
Case 1:19-cv-07841-SN Document 59 Filed 09/07/21 Page 22 of 22
Interpreting the facts in a light most favorable for Plaintiff, a reasonable jury could find Martins
negligent as a driver. Therefore, Defendants should not be granted summary judgment.
The Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Plaintiff’s Motion to Strike and
DENIES Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. The Clerk of Court is respectfully
directed to terminate the motions at ECF Nos. 40 and 43.
September 7, 2021
New York, New York
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