These two claims arise out of the same motor vehicle accident involving a
vehicle driven by Claimant Steven A. Colon, in which Claimant Lynda L. Dayton
and her son Clarence L. Gray, Jr. were passengers, and a vehicle owned by the
Defendant New York State Thruway
and being operated by one of its employees. The parties stipulated and, by
order dated June 27, 2001, I directed that Claim Nos. 103357 and 104142 be
consolidated under Claim No. 103357 and that it be joined for trial with Claim
No. 103741. The trial of these claims was bifurcated, and this decision
addresses issues of liability only.
Defendant rested at the close of Claimants' proof, not offering any evidence on
its direct case. Claimants' motion for a directed verdict, upon which I
reserved decision, ensued.
The accident occurred on May 21, 1999 at the intersection of Eagle Harbor Road
and Albion Eagle Harbor Road in the Town of Albion at approximately 1:55 p.m.
The accident report discloses that the roadways were dry and the weather was
clear (Exhibit 5). Both Eagle Harbor Road and Albion Eagle Harbor Road are
two-lane roadways, with Eagle Harbor Road (EHR) running in a north-south
direction and Albion Eagle Harbor Road (AEHR) in an east-west direction. These
two roadways intersect just south of a lift bridge on EHR which spans the Erie
Canal. A stop sign located on the northeast corner of AEHR controls traffic
heading west and attempting to enter onto EHR from AEHR. The bridge deck is
approximately 123 feet long and 18 feet 8 inches wide, and is raised and lowered
from an elevated building located just south of the bridge and on the west side
of EHR directly across from the point where AEHR intersects EHR (
Exhibit 11). A red light is activated on each end of the
bridge to warn approaching traffic when the bridge is being raised. At the time
of the accident, it was showing green in both
Laura Brace was an employee of Defendant New York State Thruway Authority on
the day of the accident and was assigned to raise and lower bridges numbered
199, 200 and 203 to accommodate boat traffic on the canal. She testified that
she was en route from bridge number 200, where she had just raised that
structure for canal traffic, to bridge number 203 (the lift bridge on EHR) for
the same purpose. She testified that she proceeded westerly along AEHR to reach
the building housing the mechanics for raising bridge number 203. She was
operating a State owned 1990 Chevrolet pickup truck which was painted yellow.
As she reached the point of the intersection of AEHR and EHR she stopped for the
stop sign, looked to the south and north along EHR and observed a vehicle
traveling south along EHR that she estimated to be roughly 500 feet away.
She also stated that because of the bridge's superstructure she was unable to
clearly observe any traffic on the bridge or just to the immediate north of the
Exhibits 7, 8, 10 and 13). The tower which contains the
controls to raise and lower the bridge is located on the westerly side of EHR,
directly across from the stop sign (see
Ms. Brace's intent was to cross over EHR, enter the westerly shoulder of EHR
and turn south and then back the pickup truck into a parking area located to the
west of the tower (
Exhibit 11). In order to do this, she stated that after
stopping at the stop sign and looking north on EHR, she then moved again to try
to see if there was any traffic on the bridge. She indicated that this was
necessary because once you ease out from AEHR you are "committed" to make the
crossing, according to her testimony (Transcript, p.
Then, as she accelerated and turned into
the southbound lane of EHR, she caught a glimpse of something "out of the corner
of my eye" (Transcript, p. 37) followed by an immediate
At approximately the same time that Brace was stopping at the stop sign at the
intersection of EHR and AEHR, Claimant Colon, operating a 1995 two-door Mercury
Cougar owned by Lynda Dayton, had reached the "T" intersection of EHR and
Knowlesville Eagle Harbor Road (KEHR). KEHR is also a two-lane highway which
runs in a west to east direction at this location and intersects with EHR north
of the bridge. Claimant Colon stopped at the stop sign located on the southeast
corner of KEHR, a stop sign set back somewhat from the corner. He looked to the
north where he observed a car traveling south on EHR and which he estimated to
be at least five to six car lengths to his north. While his view to the north
was generally unobstructed, the same cannot be said of his view to the south,
which was obstructed by a building located at the corner. In order to get a
clear view to the south, Claimant Colon would have had to pull his car up beyond
the stop sign to the physical corner of KEHR and EHR. Even at that point, his
ability to clearly see traffic to the south was hampered by the bridge's
Exhibits 15 and 9).
Claimant Colon was driving Claimant Gray to the Albion Medical Clinic, and
Claimant Dayton, Gray's mother and the owner of the vehicle, was accompanying
them. After stopping at the stop sign at KEHR, Claimant Colon proceeded to turn
right and entered EHR, crossed the bridge and saw the Defendant's truck turn in
front of him. Even though he was traveling within, and actually below, the
posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour, he testified that he was unable to
avoid striking the right side of the Defendant's pickup.
As noted above, at the conclusion of the trial, Claimants moved for a directed
verdict and I reserved on their joint motion to allow the Defendant an
opportunity to set forth in concise detail its defenses.
Preliminarily, it is clear from the record that the only proper defendant for
the claims in this accident is the Defendant New York State Thruway Authority,
which was the owner of the pickup truck and for whom Ms. Brace worked. The
Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine all claims
against the New York State Thruway Authority for alleged torts (
Easley v New York State Thruway Auth.
, 1 NY2d 374, 376), and the Thruway
Authority is separately suable in this Court and can be held accountable for its
own torts (see, e.g., MacFarland-Breakell Bldg. Corp. v New
York State Thruway Auth.
, 104 AD2d 139, 141). Moreover, the New York State
Thruway Authority has had statutory responsibility for operating the canal
system since April 1, 1992 (see
Canal Law §5, added L 1992,
ch 776, §4); and the New York State Canal Corporation is a subsidiary of
the Thruway Authority which was created in 1992 to operate and maintain the
canal system (see
Public Authorities Law §382, added L 1992,
ch 766, §31), and is subject to the jurisdiction of this Court
Public Authorities Law §361-b and §381). Since
the Canal Corporation is now a part of the New York State Thruway Authority, and
since no facts or proof implicating the State of New York have been presented,
there is no basis for it to continue as a separately named party, and the
State's motion to dismiss the claim as to the Defendant State of New York and to
strike it as a named defendant is granted and so reflected in the
To the extent that the Defendant has implied that Vehicle and Traffic Law
§§1103 and 1104 relating to public officers and authorized emergency
vehicles might be applicable, no such defense was pleaded nor was any proof
whatsoever offered that might demonstrate the applicability of these statutes to
the Thruway Authority's vehicle. This theory, to the extent it has been
implied, is rejected.
The Defendant sought to portray Claimant Colon as speeding at the time of
impact. It relies on two factors: first, that the infant Claimant Gray had a
2:00 p.m. appointment at the Albion Medical Clinic, and since the accident
happened at approximately 1:55 p.m. and the clinic was another 15 minutes south
from the accident scene, that they were late for the appointment and hence were
speeding; and second, relying upon the first factor as its premise, Claimant
Colon's testimony that at the time of impact he was traveling "around 30" (in a
35 miles per hour zone) which speed, the Defendant points out, was reached
within 123 feet from a dead stop. However, the actual distance Claimant Colon
traveled is somewhat greater than 123 feet, since the intersection of KEHR and
EHR north of the bridge is an unmeasured, albeit short, additional distance
(Exhibit 9), and the point of impact is an unmeasured, albeit short, additional
distance south of the bridge, both distances to be added to the 123-foot length
of the deck of bridge number 203. Moreover, Colon's estimate of his speed,
around 30 miles per hour (Transcript, p.145), was clearly his own best estimate.
Indeed, Claimant Dayton's testimony is that her vehicle, being operated by
Claimant Colon, was only traveling at about 28 miles per hour (Transcript,
All parties agree that §1142 and §1172 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law
appear to control the actions of the parties in this case. What complicates the
applicability of these statutes in this instance is the fact that Defendant's
driver testified that she had in fact stopped her vehicle at the stop sign on
AEHR and again just beyond the traffic control device before attempting to cross
EHR and pull onto its westerly shoulder. It is evident from the photographic
evidence that from her vantage point at the stop sign she was able to see
traffic approaching from the north along EHR as it was approaching the bridge
Exhibits 4 and 7). Her ability to see traffic on the bridge
or turning onto the bridge from KEHR was obstructed by its superstructure.
This required the driver to pull beyond the stop sign in an attempt to
ascertain traffic on or entering the bridge. However, Defendant's driver was
very familiar with the intersection and knew the configuration of the "T"
intersections to the northwest and southeast of this bridge. She conceded that
when she stopped at the sign on AEHR it was possible that she would not be able
to see a vehicle entering EHR from KEHR (Transcript, pp. 48-49).
At her deposition (portions of which were used at trial) she was asked various
questions concerning whether she ever had an unobstructed view of any traffic on
the EHR bridge prior to the accident, to which she answered that she had not.
At trial she reaffirmed that when she pulled into the intersection she never saw
Claimant's vehicle prior to impact (Transcript, pp. 52-56).
While the Defendant posited several theories relating to Claimant Colon's
putative negligence, the proof before me does not support any of its
contentions. Insinuations that Claimant Colon was preoccupied with being
somewhat late for a doctor's appointment for Claimant Clarence Gray and thus
inattentive and negligent in his driving are vague and unsupportable, and seem
belied by the undisputed fact that Claimant Colon was traveling at a speed below
the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour.
Given that the only testimony with respect to the speed of the vehicle were
estimates by Claimants Colon and Dayton, given that there was no proof that
Claimant Colon was driving erratically or at an excessive speed for the
conditions extant, and given that the speed of the Dayton vehicle was, as best
one can determine from the record, at least five miles per hour below the legal
limit, I cannot and do not find any culpable conduct by Claimant Colon relating
to the speed at which he was driving. The insinuation that Claimant Colon was
accelerating at a dangerous pace, and hence somehow culpable thereby, must be
rejected as speculative and without any foundation on the record.
Moreover, the Defendant failed to demonstrate Claimant Colon was under a duty
to slow down as he drove over the bridge (Vehicle and Traffic Law
§1180[a]). Claimant Colon's actions were not governed by a stop sign or
any other traffic control device, other than the speed limit, he had the
right-of-way and there is no evidence that he had an opportunity to avoid the
Zadins v Pommerville
, 300 AD2d 1111).
In the final analysis, I find that the sole cause of this accident was the
negligent operation of the Thruway Authority's vehicle by its employee, Laura
Brace. By her own testimony, she admitted that she attempted to cross Eagle
Harbor Road without having a clear view of the southbound traffic that was on
the bridge, and I find that she failed to yield the right-of-way to Claimants
see, Hillman v Eick
, 2004 NY AD LEXIS 8059 [4th Dept.];
Kelsey v Degan
, 266 AD2d 843). Coupled with the mandates of §1142
and §1172 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law prescribing the rules of the road
as they pertain to the duties of a driver at or approaching a stop sign, the
proof, in my opinion, clearly establishes Brace's negligence in the operation of
the Thruway Authority's vehicle, which was the sole proximate cause of this
Vehicle and Traffic Law
Claimants' motion for a directed verdict on the issue of liability made at the
close of proof and upon which I reserved decision, is hereby granted in accord
with my decision herein. All other motions made at trial upon which I reserved
decision are now denied unless otherwise disposed of within this decision.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter interlocutory judgments on the
issue of liability. These claims will be scheduled for trial on the issue of
damages as soon as practicable.
LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENTS BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.