New York City has more than 6,000 restaurants that offer outside dining options, but they are not required to erect barriers to protect their patrons from fast-moving traffic. This worries safety advocates as there have been 11 car accidents in just the last year involving motor vehicles that lost control and plowed into outside dining areas. Two of these accidents attracted media attention.
Van strikes outside dining structure
The first occurred on Second Avenue between East 50th and East 51st Streets in Manhattan on the morning of March 3. The sequence of events began at approximately 8:30 a.m. when a 66-year-old man suffered a medical emergency and lost control of the van he was driving. The van then struck a Toyota sedan with enough force to propel it into an outdoor dining area. The van came to a halt after striking a food truck on East 49th Street. Nobody was killed in the accident, but 10 people including a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old boy suffered injuries.
Delivery driver killed
Another accident that involved a motor vehicle entering an outdoor dining area claimed the life of a 37-year-old man on the night of April 29. He was waiting outside a restaurant on Ditmars Boulevard in Queens to pick up a food delivery when he was struck by an SUV. Police say the 60-year-old woman behind the wheel of the SUV was exceeding the posted speed limit and driving recklessly when she entered a bicycle lane to pass other vehicles. It was a cold evening and the outdoor dining area was not open at the time of the pedestrian accident. The owner of the restaurant told reporters that the death toll would have been much higher if the weather was warmer.
The burden of proof in civil lawsuits
Road users who take legal action to seek compensation for injuries they suffered in car accidents are usually required to prove that the motorist responsible acted negligently, but that burden may shift to the defendant when the facts speak for themselves. When restaurant patrons are struck by motor vehicles that left the roadway, experienced personal injury attorneys could argue that the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur should apply and it is up to the driver to prove that they did not act recklessly.