Road Injury Prevention Litigation Journal
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.
January 1, 1998
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New York County Found Negligent in Failing to Install Guardrails

A driver and passenger sued the County of Steuben (County) because they suffered injuries after their car left the road and plunged down an embankment. The Supreme Court, Steuben County, New York entered a judgment on the jury verdict for the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court, Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's decision, finding that the County's duties toward constructing and maintaining safe roads included the duty to provide and maintain appropriate guardrails, and the County was negligent in its failure to install guardrails where the crash occurred.

The Crash

On November 3, 1989, Timothy and Linda Colegrove were going southbound on County Route 26 (Meads Creek Road) in Campbell, New York, when their car left the highway and went down an embankment. The Colegroves brought action against the County of Steuben for the injuries they received in the crash. They asserted that the County had negligently failed to install guardrails along Meads Creek Road, north of the intersection of Meads Creek Road and Taft Road, and that the lack of such guardrails proximately caused their injuries.

Trial Court Decision

The Colegroves submitted expert evidence that their injuries would have been minimized or prevented if the highway had included guardrails where their car left the road. The trial court agreed that this evidence was sufficient to enter a judgment on the jury verdict in favor of the Colegroves. The County appealed this decision.

Appeals Court Decision

The appeals court found that the plaintiffs' expert testimony supported their contention that guardrails would have prevented or reduced their injuries. The court stated that "the duty of the County to construct and maintain its roads in a reasonably safe condition includes the duty to provide and maintain guardrails where appropriate (see, Gomez v. New York State Thruway Auth., 73 N.Y.2d 724, 725, 535 N.Y.S.2d 587, 532 N.E.2d 93; Van Son v. State of New York, 116 A.D.2d 1013, 1014, 498 N.Y.S.2d 938.)"

The appellate court stated that the Colegroves had presented sufficient evidence to support the jury's conclusion that the County had done a "plainly inadequate" investigation of the dangerous condition of the area where the crash occurred. Weiss v. Fote, 7 N.Y.2d 579, 589, 200 N.Y.S.2d 409, 167 N.E.2d 63; Puliatti v. State of New York, 91 A.D.2d 1192, 1193, 459 N.Y.S.2d 176, lv. denied 59 N.Y.2d 603, 463 N.Y.S.2d 1028, 450 N.E.2d 252.

Further, the court determined that the evidence supported the trial jury's findings that the County had "failed to review its plan in light of actual operation" and "delayed unreasonably in taking steps to correct a dangerous condition." Weiss v. Fote, supra, 7, N.Y.2d at 587, 200 N.Y.S.2d 409, 167 N.E.2d 63; Puliatti v. State of New York, supra, 91 A.D.2d at 1192, 459 N.Y.S.2d 176; Friedman v. State of New York, 67 N.Y.2d 271, 286, 502 N.Y.S.2d 669, 493 N.E.2d 893; Ames v. City of New York, 177 A.D.2d 528, 531, 575 N.Y.S.2d 917.

The County failed to verify that it delayed in installing guardrails on Meads Creek Road because of the project priorities it had established based on available funds. The appeals court considered testimony from County employees to be "ambiguous and self-serving" and concluded it "lacked supporting documentary evidence." In addition, the County did not verify its budget limitations. The court required this verification to establish such limitations as part of the County's defense. Cruz v. City of New York, supra, at 607, 607 N.Y.S.2d 969; Giske v. State of New York, 191 A.D.2d 675, 677, 595 N.Y.S.2d 559.

The appellate court unanimously affirmed the trial court's judgment--without costs.

[For further reference, see Colegrove v. County of Steuben (A.D. 4 Dept. 1995) in West Publishing Vol. 629 New York Supplement, 2nd Series, 154]

Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.

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