New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GOODMAN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-033-008, Claim No. None, Motion No. M-66102


Synopsis


Motion for permission to file a late claim alleging negligence, alleged malfunctioning traffic light is denied.

Case Information

UID:
2003-033-008
Claimant(s):
MONICA GOODMAN
Claimant short name:
GOODMAN
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
None
Motion number(s):
M-66102
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
JAMES J. LACK
Claimant's attorney:
Blodnick, Gordon, Fletcher & Sibell, P.C.By: Thomas R. Craven, Jr., Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, New York State Attorney GeneralBy: Ricardo Montano, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 29, 2003
City:
Hauppauge
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision


This is a motion of Monica Goodman (hereinafter "movant") for permission to file a late claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act §10(6), relating to damages for personal injuries sustained by movant as a result of alleged negligence by the State of New York.[1] This action arises out of a motor vehicle accident which occurred on January 31, 2002, at or about 7:00 p.m. at the intersection of Fort Salonga Road (Route 25A) and Church Street[2], Northport, New York. Movant alleges she was traveling westbound on Fort Salonga Road (Route 25A) and attempted to proceed through the intersection with Church Street. Movant explains she was traveling with a green traffic light and alleges that Carol Mirabella disobeyed the red traffic light in her direction striking movant's vehicle causing personal injuries (Affirmation of Thomas R. Craven, Jr., Esq. ¶¶4,5). Movant's assertions are supported by the statement of Jillian E. McCabe, an independent witness, annexed as Exhibit C (id. ¶6). On March 28, 2002, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of movant against Carol and William Mirabella in Supreme Court.

On or about October 24, 2002, movant's attorney received a lien notice from movant's no-fault carrier notifying him of an arbitration decision dated August 22, 2002, denying the claim by movant's no- fault carrier for subrogation based on the affirmative defense that not all tortfeasors were named (id ¶9). Movant's attorney was advised that the basis of the claim for the lien was the allegation that movant's injuries were caused by a "non-covered person", the State of New York, as a result of a malfunctioning traffic light (id ¶10). The letter from Nationwide Insurance Co. was the only notification received by movant concerning the arbitration process.

In order to determine whether to grant a timely made application for permission to file a late claim, the Court must consider, among any other relevant factors, the six statutory factors set forth in Court of Claims Act §10(6):
(1) whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable;
(2) whether the State had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim;
(3) whether the State had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim;
(4) whether the claim appears to be meritorious;
(5) whether the failure to file or serve a timely claim or serve a timely notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the State; and
(6) whether the movant has another available remedy.


The Court in the exercise of its discretion balances these factors, and, as a general rule, the presence or absence of any one factor is not dispositive (Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement System Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement System, 55 NY2d 979).

Movant attributes the failure to timely file a claim to the fact that it was not until recently that she was advised that the traffic light at the intersection of Fort Salonga Road (Route 25A) and Church Street in Northport may have been malfunctioning at the time of the collision (Affidavit of Merit of Monica Goodman ¶8). Movant was not aware of any problems with the traffic light at the time of the collision, nor was she informed by the driver of the other vehicle that the light was malfunctioning. However, movant could have conducted an investigation into the functioning of the traffic light. Ignorance of the law cannot in itself be a reasonable excuse (Erca v State of New York, 51 AD2d 611, affd 42 NY2d 854). Movant has another available remedy as she has commenced an action in Supreme Court against the driver of the other vehicle.

The second, third and fifth factors (notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; and whether the delay resulted in substantial prejudice to the State) are related. The Court will consider these factors together.

As stated previously, movant was traveling westbound on Fort Salonga Road (Route 25A) and attempted to proceed through the intersection with Church Street. When she proceeded through the intersection, the traffic light controlling her direction was green. It was movant's belief that the operator of the other vehicle disobeyed the red traffic light, thereby coming into contact with movant's vehicle. Exhibit C to movant's papers is the statement of Jillian E. McCabe, an independent witness who states movant was traveling with a green light and the other vehicle was traveling with a red light. Defendant received a letter from Liberty Mutual dated March 6, 2002, advising of a potential claim (Exhibit A to Affirmation in Opposition of Ricardo Montano). The State did not receive this letter until after the accident happened and therefore, it had no notice that the traffic light may have been malfunctioning, or an opportunity to investigate. This could cause prejudice to the State.

While the presence or absence of any one of the six factors is not dispositive, (see Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement System Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement System, 55 NY2d 979), the most critical factor always is the apparent merit of the proposed claim. This movant need only establish that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous or legally defective and there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists (see Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1). If a movant cannot meet this low threshold and the claim is patently without merit it would be meaningless and futile for the Court to grant the application even if all the other factors in Court of Claims Act §10(6) weighed in favor of the movant's request.

According to an independent witness, movant had the green light and the other vehicle's driver had a red light. In the arbitration hearing, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company submitted statements from three persons stating that they had observed the traffic light at the intersection had malfunctioned on prior occasions. Copies of these statements are annexed as Exhibit G to the Affirmation of Thomas R. Craven, Jr., Esq. One witness states he noticed the light at the intersection to both be green at the same time. He only noticed this once, sometime between mid January 2002 and mid February 2002. Another witness noticed that sometimes the light would be both green for Fort Salonga Road and Catherine Street, sometimes both would be red and sometimes one would be green, the other yellow. This was noticed on four or five occasions. He further stated the light on Catherine Street sometimes stays red a long time and vehicles have gone through it. This was observed from October 2001 until mid February 2002. The third witness states that sometime at the end of January 2002 to the beginning of February 2002, the light from 25A was green and from Catherine Street was yellow at the same time. It stayed like this for approximately five minutes. The malfunction occurred for three months, and only occurred from 5:00 p.m. into the night. However, none of the statements indicate that the traffic light had been malfunctioning on the night of the accident (Affirmation of Thomas R. Craven, Jr., Esq. ¶11). Therefore, it appears that the Northport Police Department Motor Vehicle Accident Driver's Statement is the only statement which alleges that movant's car had the green light. There has been no conclusive evidence introduced to this Court confirming the traffic light malfunctioned on the night of movant's accident.

It is inconceivable to me that an arbitrator would abandon the rules of evidence to speculate that the light could have malfunctioned on the date of the accident because it had done so prior to this date. Yet, without a scintilla of evidence that the light was malfunctioning at or about the time of the accident, the arbitrator found that it was. It is clear the arbitrator did not properly review the statements submitted concerning the light. As previously mentioned, none of the statements indicate that the light was improperly functioning on the date of the accident. While the Court is sympathetic to movant's plight, I cannot allow movant to bring her case here merely because of an arbitrator's inappropriate decision.

Accordingly, the Court concludes that the majority of the statutory factors weigh against movant's application. Therefore, movant's application for permission to file a late claim is denied.


May 29, 2003
Hauppauge, New York

HON. JAMES J. LACK
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]
The following papers have been read and considered: Notice of Motion dated November 20, 2002 and filed November 22, 2002; Affirmation of Thomas R. Craven, Jr., Esq., in Support of Motion with annexed Exhibits A-I dated November 12, 2002 and filed November 22, 2002; Affirmation in Opposition of Ricardo Montano, Esq., with annexed Exhibit A dated December 30, 2002 and filed December 31, 2002.
[2]
At that intersection, the street to the north is Church Street and to the south it is Catherine Street.