Hector Gonzalez and Sharlene Gonzalez each brought claims against the State of
New York, alleging that they suffered injuries as a result of an accident
involving a New York State Police vehicle on August 30, 1994. These two claims
were consolidated for purposes of trial by an order dated June 17, 1997. It was
further ordered that the trial of these claims would be bifurcated. This
decision, therefore, addresses the issue of liability only.
Hector Gonzalez died on February 18, 2000 as a result of an illness unrelated
to the accident in question. His testimony had been preserved at a deposition,
which was introduced into evidence at trial (see Claimants' Exhibit 23). This
deposition was reviewed and considered by the Court in rendering its decision.
Mr. Gonzalez testified at his deposition that on August 30, 1994, he and his
wife were proceeding in their vehicle, southbound on Route 57 in the Town of
Clay, Onondaga County, New York. Mr. Gonzalez was the driver of the vehicle and
Mrs. Gonzalez was a passenger. He testified that both of them had engaged
their seatbelts. Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez arrived at the intersection of Route 57
with Wetzel Road, with the intention of making a left turn onto Wetzel Road. At
this intersection, Route 57 was designed and constructed with a separate
southbound lane for vehicles making lefthand turns. The Gonzalez vehicle was
the first car in this southbound, left turn lane. The intersection was
controlled by a traffic light, which was equipped with a green arrow for traffic
making left turns. Mr. Gonzalez testified that he had stopped for this traffic
light, with his turn signal on. When the green arrow came on, he started to
make his turn and moved approximately one to two feet into the intersection when
he was struck by a vehicle operated by New York State Trooper Edwin Streety.
Trooper Streety testified that at the time of the accident, he was on duty and
on routine patrol, when he received a radio dispatch to respond to a complaint.
He was proceeding northbound on Route 57, in the passing lane, as he approached
the intersection of Wetzel Road. He estimated that he was traveling at
approximately 40 to 45 miles per hour, in a 40 mile per hour speed zone. He had
not activated his siren or his emergency lights. As he approached the
intersection, he observed the Gonzalez vehicle in the southbound, lefthand turn
lane, with its turn signal on. Trooper Streety testified that he observed the
vehicle start to make a left turn, then hesitate, and then resume its left turn.
He swerved to the right in an attempt to avoid a collision, but was unable to do
Penny M. Dugas, an eyewitness to the accident, was driving her vehicle in a
northbound direction on Route 57, and had stopped her vehicle at the same
intersection intending to make a righthand turn onto Wetzel Road. She noticed
the Gonzalez vehicle in the southbound left turn lane, and watched as it began
to make the turn. At that time, she heard a
sound as a vehicle passed on her left. It was her impression that this vehicle
was moving at a high rate of speed, immediately prior to the collision. She
confirmed that no siren had been activated and no emergency lights were
functioning on the New York State Trooper vehicle prior to impact. The Court
found her testimony to be credible.
Rebecca Clifford Smith, the 16 year old daughter of Penny Dugas, was a
passenger in her mother's vehicle at the time, and her testimony essentially
confirmed that of her mother's.
Two of the State's witnesses, Robert E. Sopha and Steven J. Hall, were also
witnesses to the accident who were proceeding northbound on Route 57. They both
indicated that the New York State Trooper's vehicle was traveling in excess of
the speed limit. Mr. Sopha indicated that the trooper's vehicle was
"accelerating" when entering the intersection. Mr. Hall testified that in his
opinion, the New York State Trooper's vehicle was traveling approximately 50 to
55 miles per hour when it passed him.
Negligence cannot be presumed from the mere happening of an accident on a
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 defendant was negligent and that such negligence was a
proximate cause of the accident (see, Bernstein v City of New York
NY2d 1020; Marchetto v State of New York
, 179 AD2d 947; Demesmin v
Town of Islip
, 147 AD2d 519).
In this claim, it is claimants' position that the officer operated his vehicle
in a negligent manner and was totally responsible for this
Defendant contends that Hector Gonzalez was negligent in the operation of his
vehicle, in both failing to see the trooper's vehicle approaching the
intersection and also in failing to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle.
After reviewing all of the credible evidence, the Court concludes that Trooper
Streety operated his vehicle in a negligent manner and was the proximate cause
of the accident which resulted in the injuries to Hector Gonzalez and Sharlene
Gonzalez. The credible testimony established that prior to the accident, the
Gonzalez vehicle was stopped at the intersection, situated properly in the left
turn lane, with its left turn signal operating. Mr. Gonzalez was waiting for
the appropriate turn signal to be activated, and when it was, he began to make
his turn when he was struck by the State Police vehicle. Quite simply, Mr. and
Mrs. Gonzalez were properly on the roadway when the New York State Trooper,
without giving any advance warning by way of sirens or emergency lights, entered
the intersection at a high rate of speed and collided with the Gonzalez vehicle.
Furthermore, the Court finds no evidence that Mr. Gonzalez was negligent in the
operation of his vehicle, and that the sole proximate cause of the accident was
the negligent manner in which Trooper Streety operated his
Accordingly, the Court finds that defendant is 100% liable to the claimants for
the injuries suffered by them.
All motions at trial not specifically ruled upon are hereby denied.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter interlocutory judgments in each
claim on the issue of liability, consistent with this decision. The Court will
schedule these claims for trial on the issue of damages as soon as practicable.
LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENTS BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.