Defendant’s Motion For Summary Judgment Denied As Record Proof Did Not Establish That The Roadway Was Reasonably Safe
In Stiggins v. Town of North Dansville, (4th Dept. 2017), nonparty Clayton Benedict was operating his vehicle on a road maintained by the Town of Dansville (“Town”). Mr. Benedict lost control of his vehicle and struck a tree. The vehicle flipped over, which resulted in the death of Joshua Stiggins, who was a passenger in the Benedict vehicle.
The road at issue ended at a parking lot, which was part of a public park. Mr. Benedict lost control of his vehicle at a curve in the road just past the park gate, which was open at the time of the accident. Mr. Benedict had consumed alcohol on the night of the accident and subsequently pleaded guilty to, among other charges, aggravated vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.
The Supreme Court granted the Town’s motion for summary judgment. The Fourth Department, however, reversed the trial court and denied the Town’s motion for summary judgment thereby reinstating the complaint. The Appellate Division noted that municipalities have “a duty to maintain its roads in a reasonably safe condition in order to guard against contemplated and foreseeable risks to motorists.” This duty is not eroded “whenever [an accident] involves driver error.”
As a result, the Fourth Department concluded that Town failed to establish as a matter of law that it was free of any negligence as it presented no evidence that the roadway where the accident occurred was reasonably safe. Additionally, the Court noted that the trial court erred in determining that Mr. Benedict’s conduct was the sole proximate cause of the accident. On that point, the Fourth Department held that the Town’s proof “did not establish as a matter of law that [Mr.] Benedict’s manner of driving would have been the same if the safety measures proposed by plaintiffs had been in place…”
The Appellate Division also rejected the Town’s alternate theory of assumption of the risk in light of the fact the accident did not arise form a sporting event or an athletic activity.
If you have questions about this case or any other municipal law issues, please do not hesitate to contact Michael J. Chmiel or Kevin E. Loftus.
Prepared by Nicholas Hriczko, Esq.