“Cosmos” host Neil deGrasse Tyson is being sued for $5 million by a New York man who claims the astrophysicist was negligent when his Audi collided with the Mercedes he was driving near John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The accident occurred in April 2012, when Tyson, who was driving an Audi with “UNIVRSE” plates, collided with a Dodge being driven by a Connecticut woman and then hit a Mercedes driven by Krzysztof Bugajski, according to court papers filed by 47-year-old Bugajski and obtained by the Smoking Gun.
The civil trial is scheduled to start next week in New York Supreme Court, but the Smoking Gun said the case is likely to be postponed.
In a deposition taken shortly after the accident, Tyson, the host of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” and director of the Hayden Planetarium, said he wasn’t paying attention in the moments before the collisions.
“At the time I made contact with the Dodge, I kind of zoned [out] and lost attention and so -- at that point I made contact with the Dodge, I have to conclude, I didn’t see it, in other words, I would not have drifted into it,” Tyson said.
The deposition also showed that Tyson used his knowledge of physics to answer some of the questions, including whether the Mercedes was stopped or moving when he made contact with it on the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens, not far from JFK Airport.
“It was – if it was not stopped, it was moving very slowly and the physics requires that it was moving slower than I was.”
The questioner then asked Tyson, “Physics is obviously involved in the movement of cars. It is not just astrophysics, correct, it is just regular physics?”
“Right, physics 101,” Tyson responds.
Tyson was in the left lane of the expressway when he said he made a “slight drift” and touched the Dodge. He said he didn’t notice the impact at first because “cars with windows closed [are] acoustically well insulated, so the beginning scratch along the Intrepid wasn’t sufficient to sort of snap me out.” Tyson then said that getting his side-view mirror hit is “what brought me back to attention. …By then I’m headed toward the Mercedes, I begin to apply the brakes, it’s too late, so that’s my recounting of the moment.”
Tyson said he wasn’t distracted when he “zoned,” and said had he been talking to his wife, Alice Young, who was in the car at the time, “it might have prevented me from zoning.”
When asked if he fell asleep or dozed off, Tyson responded, “Sleep doesn’t feel like the right word to me and probably the word zoning is not a -- you know, an official term in anybody’s lexicon, but the drone of the stop and go left me in that state.”
Bugajski was not the owner of the Mercedes. He was at the wheel for his employer, Coach Executive Chairman Lew Frankfort, for whom Bugajski works as a driver and personal assistant.
The negligence suit against Tyson seeks $5 million in damages and claims Bugajski had to get surgery on his shoulder due to the accident. The lawsuit alleged the astrophysicist was driving at an “excessive, illegal and dangerous rate of speed.”
Tyson originally estimated he was driving at 3 to 8 mph but later amended his calculations to 5 to 10 mph, according to the Smoking Gun.