I was involved in a car accident. I stopped my car at a light. The other driver slammed into the rear of my car. The owner/driver claimed that his brakes failed. Can I make a claim for my injuries?

Yes, you can sue for your injuries, provided you qualify under the no-fault law. The claim of brake failure is a difficult defense in motor vehicle accident cases. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 375 provides in part “Every motor vehicle . . . shall be provided with adequate breaks . . . in good working order and sufficient to control such vehicle at all times when the same is in use. . . .” Thus, an owner of a vehicle is obligated to maintain adequate brakes. A failure to follow a statute is huge when the trial judge instructs the jury on the law.

The owner of a vehicle is obligated to ensure that his vehicle’s brakes are periodically checked, maintained and repaired. The defendant/vehicle owner must prove the affirmative defense of brake failure.

Brake Failure Affirmative Defense

The vehicle owner must show two things. First, that the brake failure was unexpected. Second, that the owner had used reasonable care to keep the brakes in good working order. Therefore, the inspection and maintenance records would be key.  Records would prove that the brake failure was sudden. If the car was not brand new and had some mileage on it, then it was incumbent upon the owner to have the vehicle serviced. If there are no service or inspection records, then it will be very difficult for the owner of the car to claim that the brakes failed without warning. Service records show that a vehicle was reasonably maintained.

Jury Instructions

At trial, a jury would hear Vehicle and Traffic Law § 375 read to them. The trial judge would instruct the jury that if the defendant (owner of the vehicle with insufficient brakes) violated Vehicle and Traffic Law § 375. If that violation was a substantial factor in causing the accident, then the defendant is liable for the accident.