This is a motion by Meryl Monti (hereinafter "movant") for permission to file a
late claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act
, relating to the alleged
negligence of the State of New York (hereinafter "State") on October 20,
The alleged act of negligence is defendant allowing a defective traffic light
to continue to function at the intersection of Long Island Expressway Drive
North and Motor Parkway. On the incident date, the light was stuck on red in
movant's direction. An accident occurred with another motor vehicle when she
attempted to proceed through the intersection.
Defendant opposes the motion.
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
(3) whether the State had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances
underlying the claim;
(4) whether the failure to file or serve a timely claim or serve a timely notice
of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the State;
(5) whether movant has another available remedy; and
(6) whether the claim appears to be meritorious.
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 delay in filing a claim to mistakenly believing that the
traffic light was owned, operated and/or maintained by either the County of
Suffolk or the Town of Islip. Movant served a notice of claim against each of
these municipalities. After serving the notices of claim, movant attempted to
acquire records from the municipalities concerning the traffic light. On or
about February 2, 2004, movant was notified that the traffic light in question
was maintained by the defendant (Movant's Exhibit 9). Movant then attempted,
through the Freedom of Information Law, to obtain records about the traffic
light from the State. The State finally provided the records to movant on or
about May 19, 2004.
Movant's delay in timely filing and serving a claim or serving a notice of
intention is attributable to law office failure, which is not a reasonable
excuse (see, Sevillia v State of New York, 91 AD2d 792). The traffic
light is on the service road of a major State Highway, the Long Island
Expressway. A minimum amount of investigation would have revealed that the
light is owned, operated and/or maintained by the State.
The second, third and fourth 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.
The allegations of movant indicate that the State had constructive notice of a
defect in the traffic light. In addition, movant argues that the State had
actual notice of this accident because the other driver's insurance company
timely filed a claim for property damage to its insured's vehicle. Within the
claim filed by the insurance company, movant was named as being involved in the
The Court finds that the State was aware of the facts of the claim due to the
timely filed claim by the other driver's insurance company (See Rose v State
of New York, 265 AD2d 473). Further, the Court finds that the State had an
opportunity to investigate this matter and would have investigated due to the
timely filing of the other claim. The Court finds no prejudice to the State.
Movant does appear to have alternative remedies. She can sue the other driver
involved in the accident and the company the State contracted with to maintain
the traffic light.
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. The 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 (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.
The Court is satisfied that the claim exhibits the appearance of merit. The
defendant's argument that movant has not proven merit because she has not shown
the State actually owned or maintained the traffic light is specious at best.
Movant has included an exhibit (Exhibit 12) which shows that the State owns and
maintains the traffic light. In addition, defendant's papers include the
contract it has with a private company to maintain this traffic light.
In conclusion, the majority of factors favor movant. Therefore, movant's
application to file a late claim is granted. Movant shall serve and file the
proposed claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act §§10, 11 and 11-a
within forty-five (45) days of the filing of this decision and order.