No “Reckless Disregard” Standard for Municipal Dump Truck Driver
In Zanghi v. Doerfler, 2018 NY Slip Op 00963 (4th Dept Feb 9, 2018), a case handled by Michael J. Chmiel and Eric W. Marriott of our offices, the defendants were James Doerfler, a municipal dump truck driver, and the Town of Amherst, his employer.
Mr. Doerfler was in the process of transporting snow between various sites in the Town to a central dumping site located off of Millersport Highway. Mr. Doerfler had just finished unloading snow at the central dumping site, and was on his way back to retrieve more snow. He was stopped at a red light behind the plaintiffs’ vehicle. Mr. Doerfler then suffered an unexpected sneezing fit, and his foot slipped from the brake, causing his vehicle to lurch forward and impact the plaintiffs’ vehicle.
The plaintiffs brought suit, asserting that the defendants were negligent. The defendants moved for summary judgment under Vehicle and Traffic Law §1103(b), which states that vehicles “actually engaged in work on a highway” are not liable unless their operator acted with “reckless disregard for the safety of others.”
The plaintiffs cross-moved for summary judgment on the issue of negligence, arguing that because the dump truck was empty, Mr. Doerfler was not “actually engaged in work on a highway.” In their reply papers, the defendants argued that Mr. Doerfler’s job of transporting snow is all part of the same “run” or “beat,” and as such the protection of §1103(b) cannot be applied to only some parts of the work but not others. Whether the dump truck was full or empty made no difference, so long as it was engaged in work on a highway.
The Trial Court denied defendants’ motion and granted plaintiffs’ motion on the issue of negligence. On appeal, the Fourth Department affirmed. The Fourth Department held that because Mr. Doerfler was not actively “plowing, salting, sanding or hauling snow,” he could not be afforded the protection of §1103(b). Therefore, because the dump truck was empty at the time the accident occurred, the defendants were not afforded the protection of §1103(b), and were found negligent as a matter of law.
Prepared by Eric W. Marriott, Esq..