New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

KNAPP v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-029-248, Claim No. 103286


Bifurcated; liability only. Intersection accident. Claimant's vehicle struck by State Police vehicle. Court finds claimant failed to establish State Trooper drove his vehicle in a negligent manner. Court finds proximate cause of accident was claimant's own negligence, therefore, claim dismissed.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
Larkin, Axelrod, Trachte & TetenbaumBy: John Tackach, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBy: J. Gardner Ryan, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 12, 2002
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This claim for personal injury arose from a two-vehicle accident at the intersection of County Route 48 (hereinafter Rt. 48) and Crawford Street in the Town of Crawford, New York on December 1, 1999. The trial was bifurcated and this decision deals only with the issue of liability.

testified that at approximately 8:00 a.m. on December 1, 1999 she was driving her green Chevrolet Astro van from her house to her mother's house when she was involved in a collision with a marked New York State Police car operated by a State Trooper. The weather was clear that morning and the roads were dry. Ms. Knapp stated that she was traveling on Crawford Street, a two-way, two-lane road and arrived at the intersection with Rt. 48, also a two-way, two-lane road, intending to go straight across Rt. 48 to Burlingham Road. Claimant was very familiar with this intersection as she traveled this same route every weekday. The intersection is straight and is not on a hill. She testified that there was no traffic in front of her and that there was a stop sign on the right side of Crawford Road, a little back from Rt. 48 which controlled traffic proceeding on Crawford Street toward Rt. 48. She stopped at the stop sign long enough to look both ways twice and saw no traffic to her right, left or on Burlingham Road on the opposite side of Rt. 48. Claimant reviewed a copy of a photograph (Exhibit K) which she testified is the view a driver proceeding south on Crawford Street (as she was prior to the accident) would have when stopped at the stop sign. The witness placed a red circle around the mailbox in the photograph and said she could see as far as the mailbox and that the mailbox covered a blind spot in the road. Ms. Knapp again stated that she did not see any vehicles approaching from her left either time she looked in that direction. She then slowly proceeded into the intersection. Her front two tires were by the middle line of Rt. 48 when the accident occurred.
Ms. Knapp further stated that at the time of the accident she was looking straight ahead and never saw the other vehicle prior to the impact. She said that the left front side of her vehicle by the tire and the driver's door were damaged (see Exhibit B). Ms. Knapp testified that after the collision she kicked her door open (she was unable to push it open) and went to the police car where she saw the trooper. They each asked if the other was okay and each responded that they were. A while later, she and the trooper spoke again. He said she had pulled out in front of him and she said she had not. He also asserted she had stopped in the middle of the road and she said she was driving slowly but was not stopped in the roadway.

Ms. Knapp stated that a State Police Sergeant interviewed her at the hospital on the date of the accident. The Sergeant prepared a paper, read it to her and she then signed the paper. At trial, Ms. Knapp testified that at the time of the incident the sun was not in her eyes and there was no sun glare. On cross-examination, the State introduced into evidence as Exhibit U, the statement claimant signed at the hospital which was prepared by Sergeant Michael Hennigan. The statement relates "...I probably drove too slow across the intersection because I did not want to spill chicken soup which was on the floor beside me. I feel I was also blinded by the sun and that may have limited my view and caused me not to see the State Police car". Ms. Knapp stated that she thought she was helping the trooper by signing Exhibit U; that she did not want to see the young trooper get in any trouble. She stated she did not know the document she signed was an accident report.

Claimant also called New York State Trooper Michael Omilian as a witness. Trooper Omilian was the driver of the vehicle which collided with claimant's vehicle. The witness stated that he has been a member of the State Police for eight years and graduated from the State Police Academy in 1995; that on December 1, 1999 he was working patrol in a marked police vehicle; that he entered Rt. 48 from Rt. 302, approximately four to five miles to the east of the accident scene, and proceeded west on Rt. 48. The witness stated he had no problems with visibility, it was a cold and partly cloudy day and the sun did not interfere with his vision as he was traveling west on Rt. 48; that he had driven west on Rt. 48 in the area of Crawford Street on many prior occasions.

Trooper Omilian testified that Rt. 48 westbound in the vicinity of Crawford Street is a straight road though there is a slight grade. As one approaches Crawford Street one proceeds up and then slightly down a hill, the crest of which is "maybe 1,000 yards to the east of Crawford Street" (see Exhibits H and J). The witness stated that as he came over the crest of the slight hill he was not on his police radio, he was not responding to a police emergency or radio call, he did not have his lights or siren on. He was traveling at 45 to 50 MPH and there was no traffic heading eastbound toward him. The Crawford Street intersection was to his right and prior to the accident he saw the green van traveling southbound on Crawford Street approaching the intersection with Rt. 48. It was traveling "at most" 5 MPH. The green van was several car lengths north of the intersection when he first saw it and his vehicle was just to the east of the store (see Exhibits H, J and K) which he estimated to be about 600 to 700 feet east of the intersection when he saw the green van.

At trial, the witness was unable to recall the amount of time which elapsed between when he first saw the green van and the collision. After being read the testimony he gave at his June 12, 2002 deposition, he agreed with the testimony that five seconds is the time which elapsed. The witness stated that when he was about 300 feet from the intersection, the green van was still moving toward the intersection at a slow speed and he never saw the vehicle stop prior to the accident. He stated that his vehicle was in the intersection when claimant's vehicle came out of Crawford Street and entered the intersection. He was a couple of feet from the green van when he realized it was in the center of Rt. 48 and he slammed on his brakes and turned the steering wheel to avoid a collision. The vehicles continued on Rt. 48 in a southwest direction with the police vehicle coming to a rest on a lawn and claimant's van coming to rest in the eastbound lane of Rt. 48 (see Exhibits R and T).

On cross-examination, Trooper Omilian stated that as he was proceeding west on Rt. 48 he could see claimant's van through a screen of trees; that he knew that the van was there but that he was paying attention to the road and to his driving. He further stated that the posted speed limit on Rt. 48 is 55 MPH.

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 Auth., 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).
It is claimant's position that the officer operated his vehicle in a negligent manner and was responsible for this accident in that he did not keep a proper lookout, failed to see what was there to be seen, failed to take reasonable steps to avoid the accident and failed to yield the right-of-way to a vehicle in the intersection before he was. Defendant contends that Ms. Knapp was negligent in the operation of her 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.

Drivers with the right-of-way, such as Trooper Omilian, have the right to assume other drivers will comply with traffic control devices (
Namisnak v Martin, 244 AD2d 258; Aunchman v Palen, 186 AD2d 104, lv denied 81 NY2d 702; Smart v Wozniak, 58 AD2d 993, lv denied 43 NY2d 643). Here, claimant asserts she stopped at the stop sign, looked to her left and her view was blocked by a mailbox and she was unable to see "the dip" in Rt. 48 (see Exhibit K). The trooper testified that during the approximately five-second period that he observed claimant's vehicle proceed from Crawford Street into the intersection prior to the accident, he did not see the vehicle stop.
Based upon the photographs in evidence and viewing the witnesses' demeanor at trial, the Court concludes that each witness testified credibly as to their recollections. However, they cannot both be correct. The Court believes Ms. Knapp stopped at the stop sign. It appears the sign is several feet north of the intersection and claimant's view to the east (her left) up Rt. 48 from Crawford Street was obstructed by the mailbox (see Exhibit K). However, instead of moving up a foot or so and stopping again to look to her left, the evidence established that claimant slowly pulled out of Crawford Street to cross Rt. 48. The photographs in evidence as Exhibits H and J establish that if claimant had stopped a second time, closer to the intersection with Rt. 48, the mailbox would not have obstructed her view to what was there to be seen, Trooper Omilian's vehicle traveling westbound on Rt. 48 approaching Crawford Street.

Vehicle and Traffic Law (hereinafter VTL) § 1142 and § 1172 "[d]eal specifically with the rights and obligations of vehicles at intersections controlled by stop signs and thus supercede the more general right of way rules of section 1140..."[2]
(LeClaire v Pratt, 270 AD2d 612, 613 citing Hohenstein v Mosher, 36 AD2d 662). More specifically, VTL § 1142 (a) requires that a driver, after having stopped at a stop sign, "[s]hall yield the right of way to any vehicle which has entered the intersection from another highway or which is approaching so closely on said highway as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when such driver is moving across or within the intersection".[3] The fact that Trooper Omilian's vehicle was an immediate hazard to Ms. Knapp is self-evident from the resulting collision (LeClaire v Pratt, 270 AD2d 612, supra at 613). Claimant made an error on her part by proceeding slowly from the stop sign so she would not spill the chicken soup on the floor of her vehicle, despite the immediate hazard of Trooper Omilian's vehicle in violation of VTL § 1142 (a).
Claimant failed to offer any proof at trial that the trooper was speeding at the time of the accident. Trooper Omilian stated, without contradiction, that he was traveling 45 to 50 MPH and that the posted speed limit was 55 MPH. Even if there was evidence that the trooper was speeding, there are decisions holding that claimant, in failing to yield the right-of-way, was solely responsible for the collision (
Matt v Tricil (N.Y.), 260 AD2d 811; Namisnak v Martin, 244 AD2d 258, supra). Further, claimant failed to establish that the trooper had time to avoid the collision by taking evasive action (see, Matt v Tricil (N.Y.), 260 AD2d 811, supra). There was no evidence that the trooper was inattentive or that there was any condition that would have required him to reduce his speed as he approached the intersection (see, VTL § 1180 [e]; Anastasio v Scheer, 239 AD2d 823).
Based upon the foregoing, the Court concludes that claimant failed to meet her evidentiary burden to establish that Trooper Omilian failed to exercise the requisite degree of reasonable care in the operation of his vehicle. Thus, there is no basis for finding that the State was negligent. The Court finds that the sole proximate cause of this accident was claimant's own negligence. The claim is hereby dismissed. All motions made at trial, upon which decision was reserved, are now denied. The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

December 12, 2002
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] As the claim of Mr. Rainey is derivative in nature, all references to claimant will be to Ms. Knapp unless otherwise indicated.
[2] Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1140 (a) states that "[t]he driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection shall yield the right of way to a vehicle which has entered the intersection from a different highway".
[3] Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1172 states that the right to proceed from a stop sign shall be subject to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1142.