This is a timely filed claim by Stacey D. Schreiber-Cross (hereinafter
“claimant”), as Administrator of the Estate of Bryan E. Cross
(hereinafter “decedent”), individually and as the parent and natural
guardian of Bradley H. Cross and Bryan M. Cross. The claim is for the alleged
negligence by the State of New York in allowing a traffic light at the
intersection of Hallock Avenue (also known as State Route 25A) and Columbia
Street, Port Jefferson Station, New York, to display green in both directions.
On April 26 and 27, 2006, a bifurcated trial was held on the question of
The light in question is a regular three-phase traffic light,
not a blinking one. Both Hallock Avenue and Columbia Street are one lane in
each direction. Claimant called several witnesses familiar with the
intersection to describe problems with the traffic light on the date of the
accident and on other times.
Craig Behrens was the first to testify for
claimant. He owns the Taylor Rental Center near the intersection. According to
Behrens, the light at the intersection malfunctions frequently. He has seen it
blinking green, yellow and red on both roads at the same time through the years.
The witness noticed that the light was blinking yellow for Hallock Avenue on the
date of the accident at approximately 3:00 p.m. Behrens did not report the
light being on flash to anyone. Behrens also testified that he was a friend of
The next witness to testify was Clayton Johnson
who owns a martial arts business in the shopping center located at the
intersection of Hallock Avenue and Columbia Street. He recalled that on the
date of the accident the light was flashing yellow and red but does not recall
which light was facing which direction. The witness stated he noticed the light
when he got in to work, which was usually around 9 a.m. The witness stated that
he has seen the light flashing yellow and red on prior occasions but never
Roscoe Loper, who works at J&J Marine Service at the above-mentioned
intersection was next to testify. This witness testified that he had seen the
traffic light in flash mode several times. The light always flashed yellow on
Hallock Avenue and red on Columbia Avenue. The witness recounted one incident
when he says the light was green in both directions for about two seconds.
Claimant next called Fozia Choudhry, who works in the Kool Mart Convenience
Store near the above-mentioned intersection. According to her, she has seen
Hallock Avenue with a steady green light and Columbia Street with a flashing
The next person to testify was T.
Ms. Stulpin lives in the area and drives through this intersection to take her
husband to work. On the date of the accident, the first time the witness drove
through the intersection was early in the morning, on her way to drop off her
husband at work. At that time, she saw the light was operating in its normal
mode. She came back through the intersection at approximately 8:30 a.m. after
dropping off her husband and the light was flashing yellow on Hallock Avenue.
The witness stated she next came through the intersection at 11 a.m. and
observed the light on Columbia Street was green. At approximately 1:00 or 2:00
p.m. the witness observed the light flashing yellow on Hallock Avenue. The last
time the witness went through the intersection was at about 4:20 p.m. and she
noticed that the light on Columbia Street was green.
Christine Casey, an
employee of Xanadu Hair Salon, was the next to testify for the claimant. The
salon is located in the shopping center at the above-mentioned intersection. On
the afternoon of the accident, the witness saw the light on Hallock Avenue
flashing yellow to red and back to yellow. This witness has only seen the light
flash yellow in both directions.
Paige Patterson was the next witness
called by claimant. Patterson was a passenger in the vehicle which hit
claimant’s vehicle. The witness’s mother was the driver of the
vehicle. She had been picked up at the Port Jefferson Station railroad station.
The Patterson vehicle was southbound on Columbia Street. According to the
witness, her vehicle was stopped about one block north of the incident location
by the police for a seat belt inspection. Patterson testified that she was not
aware what color the light was as they approached the intersection. In addition
to the light, the witness stated that there is also a stop sign at the
intersection. The vehicle came to a full stop at the intersection and waited
before entering the intersection. The witness recalls looking out of the window
on her side of the car, but does not recall if she saw any vehicles. As the
vehicle entered the intersection, the witness recalls feeling an impact on the
passenger side of the vehicle. Patterson testified that her car spun around and
she noticed the other car flipped over onto its roof.
The last fact
witness to testify for claimant was Matthew Schreiber, the driver of the vehicle
in which decedent was a passenger. The witness is familiar with the
intersection and had been at claimant’s house, leaving with decedent to
get a pizza. The restaurant is west of the intersection and claimant’s
house is just east of the intersection. The witness and decedent passed through
the intersection on the way to the restaurant without incident.
time, the witness noticed that the light was flashing yellow for traffic on
Hallock Avenue. The accident occurred at approximately 6:00 p.m. on February
20, 2002. The witness testified the natural lighting was dusk to dark and
headlights were necessary. Schreiber stated he could see the traffic light from
about ¾ of a mile west of the intersection. The light was still flashing
yellow for traffic on Hallock Avenue. Schreiber first noticed the Patterson
vehicle when both cars were approximately 50 to 100 feet from the intersection.
Schreiber did not notice the other vehicle again until just before impact. He
remembers the impact being on the front driver side of his vehicle and does not
recall anything else until he regained consciousness and his vehicle was resting
with its passenger side on the ground.
During previous trips through this
intersection, the witness said the light on Columbia Street would flash red when
it was flashing yellow on Hallock Avenue. Based upon his past experience,
Schreiber assumed that the light was flashing red on Columbia Street on the date
of the accident. He further presumed that the Patterson vehicle would stop at
On cross-examination, Schreiber testified that the road was
level and straight. He also indicated that the road and the weather were dry.
Given the fact that it was dark, the witness was asked if he could see that the
light facing Columbia Street was red. The witness stated he could not see what
color the light facing Columbia Street was. However, during a hearing at the
Department of Motor Vehicles, the witness testified that the light facing
Columbia Street was flashing red. Schreiber also testified at a deposition in
this matter that he was able to see that the Patterson vehicle had a flashing
red light on Columbia Street. On re-direct the witness states that he was
confused during the prior testimony.
Claimant’s counsel read
portions of three depositions into evidence without objection. The depositions
were of George Dietz, David Smith, and John Ball, employees of the New York
State Department of Transportation. The portions of their deposition testimony
indicated that the traffic light at the intersection of Hallock Avenue and
Columbia Street was on flash on January 15, 2002. Mr. Dietz found the signal on
flash that day, saw that the circuit breakers had been tripped and reset them.
The remainder of the testimony focused on the repairs that were done
post-accident on February 20, 2002, which was resetting the breakers and
retaping the wires in the center head.
Claimant called Daniel Burdett as
an expert witness. The witness possesses degrees in mechanical engineering,
industrial engineering and had some involvement in electrical engineering as
well as designing engineering applications for data processing. Burdett has no
experience in the design, maintenance or installation of traffic signals, or
roadway design. He was called as an expert in both of these areas and in
accident reconstruction. According to Burdett he has been qualified in these
areas in other courts in New York. This Court allowed his testimony to the
extent the Court would consider his qualifications on a question by question
basis when deciding this matter.
The witness was given a hypothetical that
the maintenance employees after the accident on February 20, 2002 found a frayed
wire and retaped it to repair it. The witness opined that the simple taping of
a “frayed” wire was contrary to good and accepted engineering
practices. The witness said that such a taping was a temporary measure until
the wire could be replaced.
The Court must point out that the hypothetical
indicating a frayed wire being found post-accident is just that - - a
hypothetical. The testimony read into the records merely indicates that the
wire was retaped. The witness who did the taping did not recall the condition
of the wire, other than to say it was the cause of a short which caused the
breakers to be tripped. Dietz indicated that a wire would be taped even if a
hairline opening was found in the outer covering of a wire. Frayed wires were
never discussed at the depositions according to the testimony read by
claimant’s counsel. In addition, Burdett opined that more should have
been done to this light due to the fact that its flash mode was not predictable.
The light could flash in red, yellow or green to either street and sometimes the
same color to both streets. He declared that his conclusion was based upon the
statements of the witnesses as stated above.
In reconstructing the
accident, the witness testified that the Patterson vehicle would have been
traveling at 25 to 30 mph and impacted decedent’s vehicle on the
driver’s side. The impact turned decedent’s vehicle into the guide
rail on the southeast corner of the intersection. The vehicle went along the
rail until contacting a light pole which caused the vehicle to turn onto the
On cross-examination, Burdett conceded defendant was not aware the
traffic light was in flash mode until post-accident when the police first
notified the Town of Brookhaven (claimant’s Exhibit 16). During direct
testimony, the witness suggested that defendant should inspect this light three
to four times a year. He would not say that three or four times a year should
be the standard, but it was his suggestion. On cross-examination, the witness
agreed that defendant inspected and performed preventive maintenance at least
twice a year. The witness conceded that the traffic light was operating in the
appropriate flash mode when the police were at the scene (defendant’s
Burdett testified that he was familiar with “call
plugs” in the design of traffic lights,
but stated that he was aware that there was no such thing as a green plug,
which, from an engineering standpoint, would indicate that the green light could
not be on when the light was in flash mode. However, rather than think that the
former witnesses for claimant may have been mistaken, Burdett insisted the light
must be capable of having the green light lit.
Police Officer Richard
Clages testified on behalf of the defendant. Officer Clages responded to the
accident scene on February 20, 2002. He stated that the traffic light was in
flash mode: flashing yellow for Hallock Avenue and red for Columbia Street.
According to the officer, an intersection was considered to be a controlled
intersection with the light in the flash mode.
Andrew Maresca, an employee
of the New York State Department of Transportation, testified on behalf of
defendant. First he testified as to what a call plug is.
Next he testified that only red, yellow and white plugs are made. White plugs
are used for arrows, which do not apply to this traffic light. Red plugs will
ensure that red lights come on in flash, and yellow plugs make yellow lights
light. Without a green plug, it is impossible for the green bulb to light when
the signal goes to flash mode. The witness testified the yellow plugs would be
used on the major/dominant roadway, and red plugs would be used on the
lesser/minor roadway. This testimony was consistent with the testimony of the
fact witnesses who saw a flashing yellow light on Hallock Avenue whenever the
light was on flash.
During cross-examination, Maresca testified that lights
are rebuilt every year. The New York State Department of Transportation
requires an inspection of every signal in the system at least once a year. If a
short were found in one, that signal would be added to a signal repair list.
It is incumbent upon claimant to establish: the existence of a dangerous
condition; that the State created the condition or had either actual or
constructive notice of the condition; that the State failed to remedy the
condition within a reasonable time; that such condition was a proximate cause of
claimant’s accident; and that damages were sustained (Gordon v American
Museum of Natural History
, 67 NY2d 836).
Claimant has failed in all
aspects. First, claimant has not shown that a dangerous condition existed. The
traffic light was in the flash mode. According to all testimony, the light on
Hallock Avenue was flashing yellow. Claimant contends that the light on
Columbia Street was flashing green. However, claimant offers no proof that it
was. Matthew Schreiber, this Court believes, was not confused when he
testified at the Department of Motor Vehicles hearing or at his deposition. The
Court believes that in the dark he was able to see the color of the light facing
Columbia Street. The Court finds that he was less than truthful at trial
concerning being unable to see the light on Columbia Street. The only other
person that could testify as to the color of the light was Paige Patterson. She
did not recall seeing the color of the light.
Patterson did recall that in addition to the traffic light, there was a stop
sign at the intersection. A review of the photos of the intersection reveal
that no stop sign exists. The Court finds Patterson was not aware of the color
of the light at the time her mother entered the intersection.
offered no one else who saw the traffic light at the time of the accident. The
remainder of the witnesses testified that they have seen the light in the flash
mode on other occasions. Only Craig Behrens, the family friend of the claimant,
saw the light flash green.
The Court finds that at the time of the
accident the intersection was properly controlled by the traffic light. The
Court finds the light was properly working in the flash mode. Claimant’s
Exhibit 17 shows maintenance records for this intersection. Only one of the
calls (February 17, 2001) indicates that the light was on flash. The other
reports indicate inspections and preventive maintenance or a single bulb being
out. The Court is also aware that the light was in the flash mode on January
15, 2002, a little over a month before the accident. Claimant has failed to
show defendant was negligent in its operation and maintenance of the traffic
Given that the light was operating in an acceptable manner, the
proximate cause of the accident was the Patterson vehicle for disobeying the
traffic control device (see Martinez v State of New York
, 29 AD3d
Accordingly, the Court finds for the defendant and dismisses the
Claim. All motions not specifically ruled upon are denied. The Clerk of the
Court is directed to close the file.
Let judgment be entered