New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GONZALEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-009-009, Claim No. 90644


The Court found the State 100% liable in these claims, based upon the finding that a NYS Trooper was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and was fully liable for the accident which occurred at an intersection.

Case Information

SHARLENE R. GONZALEZ, As Executrix of the Estate of Hector M. Gonzalez, Sr. The Court, sua sponte, has amended the caption of this claim, originally brought by Hector Gonzalez, to reflect the death of said Hector Gonzalez on February 18, 2000, and the subsequent appointment of Sharlene R. Gonzalez as Executrix of his estate.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :
The Court, sua sponte, has amended the caption of this claim, originally brought by Hector Gonzalez, to reflect the death of said Hector Gonzalez on February 18, 2000, and the subsequent appointment of Sharlene R. Gonzalez as Executrix of his estate.
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Nicholas V. Midey, Jr.
Claimant's attorney:
BY: Francis E. Maloney, Jr., Esq.Of Counsel.
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General
BY: Ed J. Thompson, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 15, 2001

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 so.

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 "whooshing"[1]
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 roadway (see,
Tomassi v Town of Union, 46 NY2d 91; Brooks v New York State Thruway Authority, 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, 69 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 accident.[2]
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 vehicle.[3]

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.


March 15, 2001
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Unless otherwise indicated, all references and quotations are taken from the Court's trial notes.
[2] It is evident under the facts of this case that Trooper Streety was not operating his vehicle in an emergency situation, which would have provided defendant with the qualified immunity under Vehicle and Traffic Law, § 1104. The trooper's conduct must therefore be evaluated against a "negligent" standard, rather than the "reckless disregard" standard of § 1104.
[3] There was no indication whatsoever in the testimony that Mrs. Gonzalez, a passenger in the vehicle operated by her husband, contributed in any way to this accident.