New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LETTERIO v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK , #2007-010-036, Claim No. 110626


No liability, snowplow driver not reckless.

Case Information

1 1.Upon defendant’s motion, the caption was amended to reflect the only proper party defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
Upon defendant’s motion, the caption was amended to reflect the only proper party defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant’s attorney:
TENDY & CANTORBy: William Tendy, Jr., Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: J. Gardner Ryan, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 6, 2007
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Todd Letterio, hereinafter claimant,[2] seeks damages for injuries he sustained on December 20, 2004 in a motor vehicle accident on Route 82 in East Fishkill, New York.

At approximately 9:30 a.m., claimant was driving his pickup truck in the southbound lane of Route 82. Route 82 has one northbound lane and one southbound lane separated by a double yellow line. As claimant proceeded into a curve on the roadway, a New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) snowplow was traveling in the northbound lane and crossed over into the oncoming southbound lane and struck claimant’s vehicle. Claimant contends that the driver of the plow was proceeding in a reckless manner at an excessive rate of speed and attempting to plow the center dividing line in a curved area of roadway. Defendant contends that its driver was not speeding and that, due to a patch of ice, the plow skidded into claimant’s lane of traffic. Defendant maintains that its driver was not reckless and that, therefore, no liability should attach.

Claimant testified that on the morning of December 20, 2004, he was returning home from his employment as a technician on the night shift for the Metro North Railroad. After traveling approximately 200 feet southbound on Route 82, as claimant drove into a turn, he was struck by a snowplow that had driven into claimant’s lane. Claimant testified that the weather was cold and clear. The road had been plowed and there was slush in some areas. Claimant did not see the plow until he was into the turn and he has no specific recollection of the events immediately prior to impact or thereafter.

Samuel J. Matychak, Jr., the driver of the DOT snowplow, testified that he was traveling northbound with the wing and plow down, covering the entire northbound lane from the center line through a portion of the shoulder. The left edge of the plow was clearing the center line as the spreader dispensed abrasives from the rear of the truck. As the road curved, the truck suddenly hit packed ice and slid to the left toward oncoming traffic and hit claimant’s vehicle.

Matychak estimated that he had been traveling at a speed of 21 mph. He testified that as he started to skid, he tried to warn claimant of the impending collision by waving at claimant. The act was fruitless. Matychak then regripped the wheel and steered to the right. The plow broke off from the mount as a result of the collision.

On cross-examination by defendant, Matychak testified that he was supposed to clear the center line on a long, straight road, if there were no cars in the way (T:47).[3] He further stated that he was not supposed to plow the center line on a curved road because he would not be able to see if there were any oncoming cars (T:47, 49). Cross-examination of Matychak continued as follows:
  1. This area, was it so curvy that it was unsafe to plow the center?
  1. At middle [sic] of the night there ain’t no cars.
  1. Right. You could see ahead of you when you were on this curve, couldn’t you?
  1. Yes, around the curve, yes.

THE COURT: What is that, could you please repeat that? Can you repeat your answer, please?


THE COURT: You could see cars ahead of you in this curve?

THE WITNESS: Not on the curve.

THE COURT: But you plowed the center anyway?

THE WITNESS: That’s my job.

THE COURT: So you did plow – you plowed the center? You plowed the center, yes?



  1. Sammy, so as you understood your job, part of it was to plow the center line in this area, right?
  1. Yeah.
  1. This was not an area that you were worried about when you plowed the center, right; you just had to be careful?
  1. Yes.
  1. Now, when this curve in the road [sic], it wasn’t a real sharp curve, was it?
  1. No.
  1. It was a big sweeping curve?
  1. Yeah.
  1. And you could see a distance ahead of you when you were driving around it, couldn’t you?
  1. Yes.
  1. And you could see far ahead of you to see any traffic that was coming, right?
  1. Yes.
  1. If you had to, you could move over, right?
  1. Yes.
  1. By the way, how fast were you driving when you were plowing?
  1. 21 miles per how [sic].
  1. You say 21 –
  1. 21.
  1. Did you look at the speedometer, or is that what you tried to do all the time?
  1. I keep look – it’s so much weight, pushing 21 miles per hour.
  1. That’s about the best you can do, right?
  1. Yes.


Jeffrey Estremera, who was driving behind the snowplow, was subpoenaed to testify. He stated that he was traveling behind the snowplow at a speed of “approximately 20, 25 miles per hour” (T:64, 65) and at about the same rate as the plow. He observed the plow suddenly skid into the left lane. Estremera then reduced his speed and he also skidded on the icy pavement before he was able to bring his own vehicle to a stop.

An affidavit of Jeffrey Sauter, an employee of an auto parts store located near Route 82, was received into evidence (Ex. 41). The parties agreed that if Sauter had been called as a witness, he would have testified that, at approximately 9:30 a.m., he was looking out onto Route 82, which was south of the store, when he observed the DOT truck, with its snowplow down heading northbound, pass the store.
“It drew my attention because it was traveling at an excessive rate of speed, easily in excess of 50 miles per hour, in my opinion. The speed limit in this area is 35 miles per hour. Upon observing this vehicle I immediately thought that it was dangerous to travel that fast, especially for the weather conditions. I even commented about that to another employee. A second later I heard an impact and looked to the north and saw that the truck and plow had collided with another vehicle.”
(Ex. 41).

Detective Matthew F. Orsino, a detective with the East Fishkill Police Department, responded to the accident scene. Orsino testified that he observed the position of both vehicles and examined the tire marks on the road. He took photographs of the scene and spoke to both drivers. Based upon his investigation and observations, Orsino concluded that the accident happened because the plow had proceeded into the southbound lane.

Sergeant Kevin Keefe testified that he has been employed by the East Fishkill Police Department for 23 years and on December 20, 2004 he was the patrol supervisor on the day shift. He responded to the accident and observed the condition of the road and the vehicles. Keefe concluded that the cause of the accident was the extension of the front blade of the plow over the center line into the southbound lane. He examined the road and observed, as depicted on exhibit 6, that the shoulder had not been plowed at the point of impact. Since the wing of the plow extended to the right, Keefe deduced that the blade of the plow had to have been over the center double yellow line. Keefe also testified that the skid marks of the plow were consistent with forward skidding. The tire marks indicated to Keefe that the plow was left of the double line at the commencement of the skid (Ex. 12).

It is undisputed that at the time of the accident defendant’s snowplow operator was “actually engaged in work on a highway” (Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1103[b]). Therefore, in order for claimant to prevail on his claim, he must show that defendant’s driver acted with “reckless disregard for the safety of others” (id.; see Primeau v Town of Amherst, 17 AD3d 1003, affd 5 NY3d 844; Riley v County of Broome, 95 NY2d 455, 460-65; Haist v Town of Newstead, 27 AD3d 1133).

The recklessness standard requires more than a showing of lack of due care, which is associated with ordinary negligence (Notorangelo v State of New York, 240 AD2d 716, 717). It “requires evidence that ‘the actor has intentionally done an act of an unreasonable character in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow’ and has done so with conscious indifference to the outcome” (Saarinen v Kerr, 84 NY2d 494, 501, quoting Prosser and Keeton, Torts § 34, at 213 [5th ed]; see Szczerbiak v Pilat, 90 NY2d 553). Here, upon consideration of all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that the credible evidence established that the snowplow operator was traveling at a speed of less than 25 mph as he attempted to clear the center line of the roadway when he suddenly encountered a patch of ice which caused him to slide toward oncoming traffic. Notably, the vehicle directly behind the plow was traveling at a speed of 20, 25 mph and encountered ice at the same location and skidded on the icy pavement before the driver was able to bring his vehicle to a stop.

The operator testified that, while he was not supposed to clear the center line of snow in a curved area of roadway because he would not be able to see oncoming cars, he maintained that the curve was a sweeping curve, as opposed to a sharp curve, and that he could see oncoming traffic at a distance ahead of him.[4] The driver’s attempts to warn claimant or to regain control of the snowplow prior to the collision were futile. Nonetheless, the Court finds that the driver’s conduct did not rise to the level of recklessness (see Bliss v State of New York, 95 NY2d 911 [Court of Appeals found a triable issue as to whether the driver had acted recklessly where he pled guilty to unsafe backing down a narrow incline on a bridge with no rearview mirror on a heavily traveled interstate highway and had also violated several New York State Thruway Authority safety directives]; Ring v State of New York, 8 AD3d 1057 [Court of Claims finding that snowplow operator was not reckless was fully supported by the record]; Sullivan v Town of Vestal, 301 AD2d 824, 825 [considering the slow speed of the work truck and that its various emergency hazard lights were activated, the Court found no viable contention of recklessness]).


September 6, 2007
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[2]. The claim of Robin Letterio, claimant’s wife, is derivative. Claim No. 110651, joined for trial, is a subrogation claim. The trial of these claims was bifurcated and this Decision pertains to the issue of liability.
[3]. All references to the trial transcript are preceded by the letter “T.”
[4]. Even if the snowplow operator should not have attempted to clear the center line of the roadway in this area, any “alleged violations of internal company rules [did not] rise to the required level of reckless disregard” (see Green v Covington, 299 AD2d 636, 638).