Road Injury Prevention Litigation Journal
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.
April 1, 1998
TranSafety, Inc.
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New York County Found Liable for Not Maintaining Vegetation at Intersection

A motorist injured in an automobile collision at an intersection sued the County and Village for negligence in maintaining the intersection. The Supreme Court of Westchester County granted the County's and the Village's motions for summary judgment. The Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department ruled that the Village had no liability for the intersection. However, the court found that an unclear issue about the County's responsibility did not release the County from liability for failure to clear vegetation to maintain sight distance at the intersection.

THE COLLISION

On June 6, 1991, Christopher J. Federoff drove southbound on Saw Mill River Road in the Village of Hastings-on-Hudson (Village) in Westchester County (County), New York. At the intersection with Farragut Avenue, Federoff's vehicle collided with a vehicle driven by J. C. Camperlengo (Defendant) and owned by William Camperlengo (Defendant). The Defendants brought action against the Village and the County for "negligent maintenance, operation, and control" of the intersection.

TRIAL COURT DECISION

The Village and County (Third-Party Defendants) moved for summary judgment. The Supreme Court of Westchester County granted the motions and dismissed the third-party complaints. The Defendants appealed.

APPELLATE COURT DECISION

To support their contention that they were under no duty to maintain the intersection, the Third-Party Defendants submitted documentation that the County had conveyed Saw Mill River Road to the State of New York (State) in 1978. The Third-Party Defendants noted that neither the County nor the Village conceded ownership of Farragut Avenue.

Third-Party Defendants contended that any highway that intersects a State highway is under State jurisdiction for a maximum of 100 feet from the intersection. The State carries the burden of both traffic control and highway maintenance in such areas, and the State's statutory jurisdiction over the intersection and surrounding highways supersedes the statutory duty of any village or county.

The Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department agreed with the trial court that the Third-Party Defendants had established their lack of ownership of the intersection.

The court then examined liability where a government agency assumes control of an intersection by doing repairs or maintenance. An affidavit submitted by the Village confirmed its lack of control and maintenance. The Village had never maintained the land adjacent to the intersection. The Village cut back the vegetation at the intersection on only one occasion--after the crash. The court concluded that "such acts do not give rise to an inference of pre-accident assumption of any such duty."

For a civil action against the Village, written notice must first be provided to the Village Clerk. No such written notice occurred. Because the Village did not own Saw Mill River Road, did not maintain the intersection, and did not receive notice that the intersection was dangerous, the appellate court found that the trial court had properly granted summary judgment to the Village.

The court stated:

It is well settled that there is a common-law duty of a governmental body, whether it is the State, a county or other municipality, to maintain its roads in a reasonably safe condition, with liability to flow for injuries from any breach thereof. . . . This encompasses an obligation by the State or municipality to trim growth within the highway's right-of-way to assure visibility of stop signs and other traffic. However, to have such a duty, the municipality must own or control the highway. . . .

The County did not submit evidence of a similar written-notice requirement, nor did it enact any law precluding civil suits if there were a failure to give written notice of a dangerous highway situation. Although the County had established its lack of ownership of Saw Mill River Road, the court found that the County "wholly failed to submit any viable proof to establish that it did not exercise control over the intersection or assume responsibility for its maintenance." On May 4, 1995, the appeals court ruled the trial court had erred in granting summary judgment to the County and reversed.

The order was modified without costs.

[For further reference, see Federoff v. Camperlengo (A.D.3 Dept. 1995) in West Publishing Vol. 626 New York Supplement, 2d Series, 301]

Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.



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