In this claim, claimant seeks to recover damages for pain and suffering and the
wrongful death of her husband Ronald Griep, who died as a result of injuries
suffered in an automobile accident which occurred on New York State Route 69 in
the Town of Parish, Oswego County. The accident occurred on January 19, 1995,
shortly before 5:00 p.m. Claimant has also asserted an individual, derivative
cause of action. A trial was held to determine the issue of liability only.
On January 19, 1995, decedent was driving in his Oldsmobile van in an easterly
direction on Route 69 when his vehicle was struck head-on in his lane of travel
by an automobile operated by one Joshua Turner. Mr. Turner had been traveling
in a westerly direction on Route 69 immediately prior to the accident. The
posted speed limit on Route 69 in this area was 55 miles an hour. At the time
of the accident, evidence established that the weather conditions were
favorable; the skies were cloudy and the highway pavement was dry. Highway
markings were clearly visible.
Route 69, in the vicinity in which the accident occurred, is a straight and
level two-lane highway, with one lane each for westbound and eastbound traffic.
Near the scene of this accident, County Route 22 meets Route 69 from the north,
forming a "T" intersection. At a point approximately 800 feet east of this
intersection, Crosby Road intersects with Route 69 from the south in another "T"
intersection. Taken together, these two roads meeting on Route 69 form an
offset intersection. In 1970, an additional lane was added to the northerly
side of the highway (the westbound line of traffic). This new right-hand lane
could be utilized by westbound drivers to pass vehicles which were slowing (or
stopped) in the lefthand lane of traffic, preparing to turn left onto Crosby
Road. Once a driver passed the intersection with Crosby Road, the right-hand
lane could also be utilized by a driver intending to turn right onto County
Route 22, and traffic continuing west on Route 69 could utilize the left-hand
lane. This additional westbound lane terminated at the intersection with Route
22. A similar lane of traffic had also been added on the southerly side of
Route 69, allowing eastbound drivers to pass vehicles turning left onto County
Route 22, or further east, for use by vehicles turning right onto Crosby Road.
The facts of this case are essentially uncontroverted. Joshua Turner, the
driver of the other vehicle involved in this accident, did not testify at trial.
Evidence established, however, that he was 22 years of age and by his own
statement (see Exhibit 15), he admitted that he was traveling well in excess of
the speed limit, at approximately 70 miles per hour, at the time of the
In this statement (which was made to the investigating officer the day after
the accident), Mr. Turner related that he was heading to the airport in
Syracuse, attempting to make a 5:40 p.m. flight to New York City. He was
driving behind another vehicle, traveling at approximately 60 miles per hour.
As he approached the right-hand lane on the north side of Route 69, he decided
to pass this vehicle on the right. He accelerated and passed the vehicle, but
then abruptly encountered the end of the right-hand lane, which terminated at
County Route 22. As his car went onto the shoulder of Route 69, just west of
County Route 22, Mr. Turner attempted to bring his vehicle back onto the
roadway. He pulled left but overcompensated, lost control of his vehicle, and
crossed into the path of the van being driven by the decedent, causing the
accident which is the basis of this claim.
Claimant alleges negligence against the State in that it failed to place
appropriate signage along the roadway to alert motorists that the right-hand
lane was not a passing lane and that it ended at the County Route 22
intersection. Had the State done so, claimant contends that Mr. Turner would
have been alerted to the fact that he could not successfully pass the other
vehicle and that this accident would have been avoided.
The State is not an insurer of the safety of its roadways and the mere
happening of an accident on a State roadway does not render the State liable
Tomassi v Town of Union
, 46 NY2d 91; Brooks v New York State Thruway
, 73 AD2d 767, affd
51 NY2d 892). Claimant has the burden of
establishing that the State was negligent and that such negligence was a
proximate cause of the accident (see, Bernstein v City of New York
NY2d 1020, 1021-1022; Marchetto v State of New York
, 179 AD2d 947;
Demesmin v Town of Islip
, 147 AD2d 519).
Furthermore, the design, construction and maintenance of public highways is
entrusted to the sound discretion of municipal authorities, and as long as the
highway is reasonably safe for people who obey the rules of the road, the duty
imposed upon the municipality is satisfied (see,
Tomassi v Town of Union
Testimony established that the additional lanes were added to Route 69 in 1970,
and that the reconstruction complied with standards of highway construction
existing at the time (see Exhibit D).
Raymond McDougall, Assistant Regional Traffic Engineer for the State Department
of Transportation, also testified that he had searched department records, and
that in the three year period immediately preceding this accident, there had
been only one other accident in the immediate area, which was not similar in
type to the accident involved in this claim. He also testified that he had
searched departmental records for the past ten years and had found no complaints
on file relating to safety concerns at this intersection.
Furthermore, Mr. McDougall testified that approximately one and one-half years
prior to the accident, he had personally inspected the intersection in order to
determine the location of signs directing traffic to the
Altmar-Parish-Williamstown High School. Mr. McDougall testified that at that
time, he determined there was no need for any signage relating to these lanes of
It is well established that the State has a qualified immunity for highway
planning decisions which require expert judgment or the exercise of discretion,
unless it can be established that such action was taken without a reasonable
Weiss v Fote
, 7 NY2d 579, rearg denied
8 NY2d 934; Friedman v
State of New York
, 67 NY2d 271). Strong policy considerations form the
basis for this qualified immunity, and in cases "where a governmental body has
invoked the expertise of qualified employees, the Weiss
not be lightly discounted" (Friedman v State of New York
at 285). Significantly the standard of Weiss
has been applied to
situations involving the posting of signs (Ufnal v Cattaraugus County
AD2d 521, lv to appeal denied
60 NY2d 554).
In this claim, there was no testimony or evidence to suggest that the decision
to widen the highway at this intersection in 1970 was made without an adequate
or reasoned study. Furthermore, a State engineer had inspected this site
approximately one and one-half years before the accident and, taking into
consideration the absence of any prior accidents in this area, he determined
there was no need for any signage or highway markings.
Based upon the credible evidence presented at trial, the Court cannot properly
conclude that additional signage was necessary, or that this was a dangerous
Claimant also contends that the State failed to comply with the Manual of
Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) (17 NYCRR Part 200,
). Claimant argues that either a "W3-13" sign (Right Lane Ends)
(§ 233.5[a]) or an "R3-32" sign (Right Lane Must Turn Right) (§
213.5[a]) should have been in place alongside the roadway. As another
alternative, claimant suggests that a "W3-10" sign (a symbolic sign showing a
lane reduction) (§ 233.5[a]) should have been utilized.
§ 233.5(a)(4) of MUTCD, however, clearly states that "these signs are not
intended for use in conjunction with lanes which exist for short distances, such
as acceleration lanes or added lanes at intersections", which is precisely the
situation at hand in this case.
Furthermore, and as described earlier herein, this additional right-hand lane
had been added not only as a lane for traffic slowing down to turn right onto
County Route 22, but also was intended for use by through traffic, enabling
drivers to pass vehicles which were slowing or stopped, waiting to turn left
onto Crosby Road, a short distance to the east. As defendant correctly points
out, signs mandating a left-hand turn from the left lane, or a right-hand turn
from the right lane (pursuant to § 213.5[a]), would only have served to
confuse and mislead drivers.
The Court, therefore, does not find any violation of MUTCD provisions in its
decision not to place lane reduction or warning signs along this stretch of
Accordingly, and after due consideration of all the evidence presented, the
Court finds that claimant has failed to establish negligence by a preponderance
of the credible evidence, and that the State cannot be held liable for the
unfortunate and tragic accident which occurred. The claim must therefore be
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.