New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GOUDIE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-017-013, Claim No. 97194, Motion No. M-61233


Synopsis


The Court denied defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground that material issues of fact existed as to whether a stop sign maintained by the State was present at an intersection on the date of claimant's motor vehicle accident.

Case Information

UID:
2000-017-013
Claimant(s):
ELIZABETH M. GOUDIE
Claimant short name:
GOUDIE
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
97194
Motion number(s):
M-61233
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
ANDREW P. O'ROURKE
Claimant's attorney:
Larkin, Axelrod, Trachte & TetenbaumBY: John J. Tackach, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: Richard Lombardo, Esq.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 30, 2000
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

The following papers, numbered one through four, were read and considered by the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim:

Notice of Motion, Attorney Affidavit and Exhibits...................................1

Affirmation in Opposition and Exhibits.....................................................2

Reply Affirmation and Exhibit...................................................................3

Filed Papers: Claim, Answer......................................................................4

This claim arises out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on July 19, 1997 at approximately 9:30 p.m. at the intersection of State Route 82 and Waterbury Hill Road in the Town of LaGrange, County of Dutchess, State of New York. Claimant alleges that she was driving westbound on Waterbury Hill Road and came upon the intersection of Waterbury Hill Road and State Route 82, which forms a "Y" intersection, and proceeded to take the left leg of the "Y" heading southbound. Claimant did not stop at the intersection and collided with another vehicle proceeding northbound on State Route 82. Claimant alleges that the stop sign which controls the traffic at the southbound leg of the intersection, which is normally located on an island between the two legs of the intersection, was missing, and that the negligence of the State in failing to properly maintain the stop sign at this intersection was a proximate cause of her accident.

Defendant now seeks summary judgment dismissing the claim on the ground that there is no material issue of fact as to the presence of the stop sign on that island at the time of the accident. Defendant also contends that, even if a factual issue exists as to the presence of the stop sign at the time of the accident, summary judgment should be granted on the ground that claimant has failed to raise a question of fact as to whether the State had actual or constructive notice that the stop sign was missing on the accident date.

A motion for summary judgment "shall be granted if, upon all the papers and proof submitted, the cause of action or defense shall be established sufficiently to warrant the court as a matter of law in directing judgment in favor of any party" (CPLR 3212[b]). To prevail, the movant has the burden of establishing, by proof in admissible form, that there are no material issues of fact (see, Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562). Manifestly, summary judgment is a drastic remedy that should not be granted where there is any doubt as to the existence of genuine issues of material fact (see, Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395, 404). In deciding the motion, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, claimant here.

Drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of claimant from the papers submitted on this motion, the Court finds that there is a material issue of fact as to whether the stop sign in question was present on the date of claimant's accident. It appears to be undisputed on these submissions that the stop signs on both legs of the "Y" intersections on Route 82 were down after an accident in May of 1997.

The deposition testimony of the Department of Transportation (DOT) employee, Mr. Lifshin, who was responsible for repairing or replacing those signs after that accident, provides that if he had seen both signs down, it would have been his normal practice to repair both of them (see, Notice of Motion, Exh. G, p. 43). Additionally, the police accident report completed at the time of claimant's accident indicates that claimant "disregarded stop sign," indicating that the sign was present on July 19, 1997 (see, Notice of Motion, Exh. B).

However, while claimant was issued a ticket for failing to obey a stop sign, the officer who issued claimant the ticket did not appear at claimant's trial, and the ticket was dismissed. Additionally, a notation on a Supervisor's Daily Report maintained by DOT indicates that on May 13, 1997, Mr. Lifshin repaired a stop sign and that a Waterbury Hill Road sign was repaired (see, Notice of Motion, Exh. K [emphasis supplied]). It does not indicate that two stop signs were repaired, and Mr. Lifshin could not recall during his deposition whether he had repaired both signs or which of the two stop signs at the Y he had repaired after being shown photographs of the intersections (see, Notice of Motion, Exh. G, p. 43). There is no indication that any further repairs or replacement of the stop sign in question was made after that date and prior to claimant's accident, although DOT has disclosed records for all repairs made in connection with the stop signs at issue during the relevant period. Claimant also proffered photographs of the intersection, and an accompanying affidavit of the person who took the photos, revealing that no stop sign was present at the intersection the morning after her accident (see, Affirmation in Opposition, Exh. R). Notably, Mr. Lifshin refused to sign an affidavit prepared by defendant providing that he had, in fact, repaired the stop sign governing the southbound leg of traffic at the intersection in question in May of 1997 (see, Affirmation in Opposition, Exh. P). At his deposition, however, Mr. Lifshin testified that he did not sign this affidavit because "I used to work for the State and they are not my favorite people. As far as going out of my way to help the State [it] [sic] is not in my best interest" (Notice of Motion, Exh. G, pp. 46-47). Given this statement, the Court finds that credibility issues are present concerning the testimony of this key witness, which may well prove to be pivotal in this case. Thus, the Court finds that the uncertainty as to whether the sign in question was ever replaced after the May 1997 accident creates a material issue of fact as to whether the sign was present at the time of claimant's accident that warrants a denial of a grant of summary judgment here.


June 30, 2000
White Plains, New York

HON. ANDREW P. O'ROURKE
Judge of the Court of Claims