New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LANG v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-010-069, Claim No. 96523


Synopsis


Claimant's accident at intersection was not due to any negligence of the State.

Case Information

UID:
2000-010-069
Claimant(s):
BETHANNE LANG
Claimant short name:
LANG
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
96523
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
KAREN BOSSHART, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: John Healey, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 17, 2000
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant seeks damages for the personal injuries she allegedly sustained on Sunday, June 23, 1996. At approximately 10:00 p.m., when, as she was driving southbound on Route 117, she attempted to make a left turn onto Harris Road in the Town of Bedford, County of Westchester, and her automobile was struck by an automobile traveling northbound on Route 117. Claimant contends that the sole proximate cause of the accident was defendant's negligent maintenance, operation and control of the traffic signal at the intersection. Specifically, claimant alleges that the left turn arrow did not remain green for a sufficient amount of time for claimant to complete a left turn. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.
In the vicinity of claimant's accident, Route 117 has one northbound lane and one southbound lane with a left turning lane in each direction. The intersection is controlled by a traffic light with turn arrows.

Claimant, a teacher in the Lakeland School District, testified that at approximately 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 23, 1996, she was driving southbound on Route 117. Claimant was very familiar with this road because she traveled it daily to work. On the evening of the accident, claimant observed, from a distance of approximately one tenth of a mile, a green light at the intersection. As she approached and entered the left turn lane, she noticed a car in the northbound lane, at a distance of approximately five car lengths from the intersection. Claimant slowed down to a stop at the intersection and observed a green left turn arrow. She assumed that the northbound driver approaching the intersection had a red light and she proceeded to make a left turn. Claimant testified that the green arrow was lit for two seconds, followed by a yellow arrow for three seconds. Claimant applied her brakes on the assumption that the light was malfunctioning. The northbound driver continued through the intersection and struck claimant's car. Claimant conceded that, had she not stopped when the green arrow had turned to yellow, she would have had enough time to complete the turn and clear the intersection.
On July 3, 1996, claimant completed a New York State Department of Motor Vehicle Report of Motor Vehicle Accident (Ex. 2). In the space provided for the accident description, she noted that she was "making a left turn from turning lane on green arrow-onto Harris Rd" (Ex. 2).
Claimant made no reference to a malfunctioning traffic light.
Mark Kruk, New York State Department of Transportation's Supervisor of the Traffic Operations Group in Region 8, testified on behalf of defendant. Kruk's responsibilities encompassed supervision over the design, maintenance and operations of the 1300 traffic signals in Region 8, including the area of the accident. Kruk was familiar with the accident site and the timing specifications for the traffic signal at that location. Kruk explained that the light was programmed to show a green left turn arrow when a vehicle entered the left turn lane. The number of vehicles in the lane triggered the length of time that the arrow remained green. When there was only one car in the turn lane, the timing was set for the arrow to remain green for two seconds, followed by a yellow arrow for five seconds. Then all lights in the intersection turned red for one second. When a southbound driver entered the left turn lane, the signal facing the northbound drivers turned yellow. Then, as soon as the green turn arrow illuminated, the northbound signal switched from yellow to red and remained red while the green/yellow arrow sequence continued for southbound drivers. According to Kruk, it would have been impossible for a northbound driver to have a green light during the programmed turn sequence because a conflict monitor controlled the intersection and prevented conflicting signals from occurring. If a conflicting signal was indicated, the traffic light would default into a flashing mode. The traffic signal maintenance sheets for March 30, 1996 and June 17, 1996 indicate that there were no problems found with the detectors, the contact monitor or the timing of the traffic signal (Exs. D, E).
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 (
see, Tomassi v Town of Union, 46 NY2d 91; Brooks v New York State Thruway Auth., 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, 69 NY2d 1020, 1021-1022; Marchetto v State of New York, 179 AD2d 947; Demesmin v Town of Islip, 147 AD2d 519). Liability will not attach unless defendant had actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition and then failed to take reasonable measures to correct the condition (see, Rinaldi v State of New York, 49 AD2d 361).
Claimant failed to present any evidence establishing negligent design, maintenance or operation of the traffic signal (see, Shneyer v City of New York, 244 AD2d 544 [the record is devoid of any evidence establishing that a defect in design, installation or maintenance of a light post was a proximate cause of the accident]). Indeed, the evidence presented by defendant established that there were no problems found with the detectors, the contact monitor or the timing of the traffic signal (Exs. D, E) (see, Immerman v City of New York, 202 AD2d 637 [no evidence of negligence]). While claimant argues that the two-second illumination of a green arrow was insufficient "as a matter of law," claimant cites no legal authority supporting such proposition (Claimant's Post-Trial Memorandum, p. 3). Notably, Kruk testified that the number of vehicles in the turn lane triggered the length of time that the arrow remained green and that, when only one car was in that lane, the two-second green arrow was followed by a five-second yellow arrow. Moreover, claimant herself conceded that, had she not stopped when the green arrow turned yellow, she would have had enough time to complete her turn and clear the intersection.
It is noted that,
on cross-examination, claimant initially denied ever having been involved in another accident where she was making a left turn and was struck by a car going through a light. However, when confronted with her EBT testimony, claimant changed her trial testimony and conceded that she had had an accident in 1990 while making a left turn. Claimant further acknowledged that the prior accident heightened her degree of cautiousness in making left turns. Claimant's purported memory lapse on a topic that was obviously explored at her EBT, and had a lingering effect on her driving, undermines her credibility. Additionally, the Court finds that claimant's manner of driving, and not any negligence of defendant, was a proximate cause of the accident (see, Wang v County of Rockland, 179 AD2d 977 [manner of driving was the sole proximate cause of the accident]; Ktenas v Pillar, 101 AD2d 991 [accident attributable solely to inattention and negligence of either/or both drivers and not malfunctioning traffic signal]).
Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now GRANTED.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 96523.

October 17, 2000
White Plains , New York

HON. TERRY JANE RUDERMAN
Judge of the Court of Claims