“Reckless Disregard” Standard Applies to Police Officer, but Question of Fact Remains
In Coston v City of Buffalo, 2018 NY Slip Op 04136 (4th Dept June 8, 2018), the plaintiff brought suit against the City of Buffalo seeking damages for injuries he sustained when the vehicle he was operating collided with a police vehicle operated by a police officer employed by the City of Buffalo. The defendants moved for summary judgment based on the protection for emergency vehicles enumerated in Vehicle and Traffic Law §1104, which states that when involved in an emergency operation, emergency vehicles are exempt from certain rules of the road and are liable only if the operator acts with “reckless disregard for the safety of others.”
In denying the defendants’ motion, the trial court determined that there was an issue of fact as to whether the reckless disregard standard of care as opposed to ordinary negligence was applicable to the case.
On appeal, the Fourth Department determined that because the officer was responding to a dispatch call in an authorized emergency vehicle, the protection of §1104 applied to the case, and the defendants should be held to the reckless disregard standard of liability.
The Court agreed with the plaintiffs, however, that there was a question of fact as to whether the officer had acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others. There existed conflicting testimony as to whether the officer had slowed his vehicle before driving through a stop sign and impacting the plaintiff, which precluded a finding of summary judgment for the defendants.
Question of Fact on Whether Town Was Negligent in Failing to Install Guide Rails
In Whitaker v Kennedy/Town of Poland, 2018 NY Slip Op 04170 (4th Dept June 8, 2018), the plaintiff commenced an action as guardian of Joseph L. Martin, Jr., an incapacitated person, seeking damages for injuries sustained by Martin in a single-vehicle accident at the intersection of Hartman Road and Stone Road in the Town of Poland. Martin was a passenger in a vehicle that failed to stop at the intersection, continued across the street, went down an embankment, struck a tree, and came to rest in a creek. The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the defendants were negligent in failing to install guiderails at the intersection, among other theories of negligence.
The defendants moved for summary judgment, and the trial court denied the motion. On appeal, the Fourth Department found that the trial court properly denied the defendants’ motion on the issue of failing to install guiderails. The Court stated, “A municipality has a duty to maintain its roads in a reasonably safe condition in order to guard against contemplated and foreseeable risks to motorists, including risks related to a driver’s negligence or misconduct.”
The defendants’ own evidence submitted in support of their motion tended to establish that they had notice of prior similar accidents at the intersection, which the Court found to create an issue of fact as to whether they were negligent in failing to provide adequate protection against a known dangerous condition by installing guiderails.
The Court agreed with the defendants, however, that the other causes of negligence should have been dismissed, as the defendants met their initial burden, and the arguments were unopposed by the plaintiff.
Prepared by Eric W. Marriott, Esq..