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
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
Negligence cannot be presumed from the mere happening of an accident on a
Tomassi v Town of Union
, 46 NY2d 91; Brooks v New York State Thruway
, 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
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
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
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..."
(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
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
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
). Further, claimant failed to establish that the trooper had
time to avoid the collision by taking evasive action (see, Matt v Tricil
, 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