New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RENTOULIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-010-041, Claim No. 96208


Claimant's one car collision was not attributable to any negligence of defendant.

Case Information

NIKOLAOS RENTOULIS The Court has, sua sponte, amended the caption to reflect the only proper party defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The Court has, sua sponte, amended the caption to reflect the only proper party defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Belinda Wagner, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 12, 2002
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant seeks damages for the injuries he sustained in an automobile accident that occurred on April 4, 1997 when claimant was driving eastbound on Route 6 in the Town of Somers. Route 6 has one eastbound lane and one westbound lane separated by a double yellow line. As claimant approached the intersection with Mahopac Avenue, he lost control of his car, swerved across the road toward oncoming traffic, and then back across the road and into a tree.

Claimant contends that his accident was caused by a State police car driven by Trooper Ronald Reid, who allegedly pulled out in front of claimant and cut him off as he proceeded eastbound toward the intersection, which is at the top of a hill. Defendant denies the presence of any trooper at this juncture. Claimant maintains that this denial is a cover-up created by Reid to conceal that he was not at his assigned post at the time of the accident. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.

Claimant testified that at approximately 9:00 p.m. on April 4, 1997, he was driving eastbound on Route 6. He stated that he first observed the trooper vehicle, from a distance of five to six car lengths, parked on the side of Route 6. The car did not have its lights activated. Claimant then saw the trooper begin to move and noted that the traffic light ahead was green. Claimant testified that the trooper cut claimant off and, in response, claimant took his foot off the gas and steered to the right to avoid hitting the trooper car in front of him. Claimant did not apply his brakes. Claimant went onto the gravel on the right side of the road, then lost control of his car and veered into the westbound lane. As he observed approaching car lights, claimant steered back into the eastbound lane, went off the road and into a tree. Claimant conceded that he might have over steered in his attempt to return to the eastbound lane.

After the collision, paramedics arrived at the scene. Claimant did not recall if any police officers were present. Claimant was transported, by helicopter, to Westchester Medical Center. That night, at the hospital, claimant was given three tickets, charging him with: 1) Driving While Intoxicated;[1] 2) Crossing a Double line; and 3) Not Wearing a Seatbelt. Seven to ten days later, claimant retained an attorney to defend claimant against the charges. When asked whether, before commencing his lawsuit, claimant had told anyone that Trooper Reid had cut him off, claimant replied that he did not think he had.

Dina Rentoulis, claimant's wife, testified that after learning about the accident, she proceeded to Westchester County Medical Center and saw her husband at approximately 10:00 p.m. Although claimant had injuries to his mouth, he was awake and spoke with his wife. Between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m., Mrs. Rentoulis had a conversation with Trooper Reid and Reid indicated that he saw the accident. According to Mrs. Rentoulis, Reid appeared nervous, frustrated and was pacing. She did not advise Reid that a State trooper was involved in the accident.

Camille Nickerson testified that she had been traveling eastbound on Route 6, behind claimant, for a few minutes before they reached the intersection with Mahopac Avenue. She estimated that she was one to one and a half car lengths behind claimant when she observed him cross over the intersection, veer to the right, and hit a tree or pole. After the impact, she pulled onto the shoulder to assist claimant. She did not observe any State trooper or any other vehicle pass her's at the intersection. She testified that, as you ascend the small hill toward the intersection, Mahopac Avenue is visible.

John Connelly testified that on the night of April 4, 1997, he was driving westbound on Route 6. When he approached the intersection of Mahopac Avenue, at a distance of five to six car lengths, he observed an eastbound car coming head on into the westbound lane. Connelly saw the car swerve back into the eastbound lane and then hit a tree. Connelly did not see a police car or any other vehicle cross over Mahopac Avenue. He called 911 and stopped to assist claimant. At the scene, Connelly reported his observations of the accident to Reid. Approximately three days after the accident, Reid contacted Connelly and requested that he complete a written statement. In response to Reid's inquiry, Connelly mentioned that no police vehicle was at the scene.

Richard Boyle was a front seat passenger in Connolly's car. Boyle recalled that, as they neared the intersection, an eastbound car swerved toward them and then back into the eastbound lane and into a tree. Boyle did not see a police vehicle or any other car cross Mahopac Avenue before claimant's accident. In a written statement dated April 11, 1997, he noted, "[t]here were no cars in front of the car nor no car cut him off. and [sic] there was a car behind him. prior [sic] to the accident I saw no State police in front of the tree or the car" (Ex. 10).

New York State Trooper James Torhan testified that he was assigned to the Somers Barracks and was familiar with the intersection of Route 6, which is at the crest of a hill. He maintained that the State police would never set up radar on the side of Route 6 because of the layout. On the night of the accident, Torhan responded to claimant's accident. He observed fire personnel and Reid at the scene. Reid, who was the senior officer, was assigned to the investigation of the accident.

Reid's examination before trial testimony was received into evidence (Ex. A).[2] He testified that at 8:45 p.m. on April 4, 1997, he was in the Town of Yorktown, when he received a police transmission alerting him to claimant's accident. Reid responded to the scene, which was four minutes away. He was the first trooper to arrive and spoke with witnesses Nickerson, Boyle and Connelly. Reid called for a helicopter to transport claimant to the hospital and later went to the Westchester Medical Center to continue his investigation. Reid had a conversation with claimant's wife at the hospital.

Reid testified that he recalled asking Boyle about the possibility of another vehicle causing claimant's accident because of allegations that a State police vehicle had cut off claimant.[3] Based upon Reid's conversations with the witnesses, who were traveling both behind and approaching claimant, Reid concluded that no other vehicle was involved in claimant's accident. Reid also maintained that speed traps were never set up at the intersection of Mahopac Avenue and Route 6.

It is claimant's burden to establish 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, 1021-22; Marchetto v State of New York, 179 AD2d 947; Demesmin v Town of Islip, 147 AD2d 519).

Upon listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that claimant has failed to establish, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that defendant, in any way, either caused or contributed to his accident. This Court finds claimant's allegation that Trooper Reid cut claimant off and was thereby a cause of claimant's accident is not believable nor supported by the trial evidence. Notably, the three disinterested witnesses to the accident did not even place a trooper car in the vicinity of claimant's accident.

Claimant was bound to see that which should have been seen with the proper use of his senses (see Weigand v United Traction Co., 221 NY 39; Sappleton v Metropolitan Suburban Bus. Auth., 140 AD2d 684). He was obligated to operate his car at a rate of speed and in such a manner of control as to avoid an accident (see Woolley v Coppola, 179 AD2d 991, 992). On the record before this Court, it is reasonable and probable that the sole proximate cause of the accident was claimant's inattentiveness while driving and inability to keep his vehicle under control (see Schichler v State of New York, 110 AD2d 959, affd 66 NY2d 954; Marchetto v State of New York, 179 AD2d 947).

Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now GRANTED.


July 12, 2002
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]The Driving While Intoxicated charge was subsequently dismissed (Claimant's Notice to Admit, ¶ 3, Defendant's Response to Notice to Admit, ¶¶ 4, 5).
[2] Reid, now retired, resides in Florida.
[3] The Court credits Reid's testimony that he learned about the allegations against the State prior to the filing of the claim.