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
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
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
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"
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.
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
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.
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.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 96208.