On October 19, 2001 at around 11:15 p.m., on the eastbound side of the Southern State Parkway near Exit 20N, a State Trooper responded to an accident in the median lane. The accident had occurred when a passenger car driver’s vehicle was struck in the rear by another vehicle and the first vehicle spun around and came to rest on the center median facing into oncoming traffic. The State Trooper parked her vehicle on the median facing east. A secondary Trooper arrived to help get bystanders out of the median and back to safety. The bystanders were numerous persons who had witnessed the truck accident and had stopped to help.
A tow truck driver, who worked for the tow truck service that was contracted to assist the State Troopers with accidents, heard the call on his scanner and came to the location. He subsequently pulled his wrecker in front of the State Trooper’s vehicle facing it into oncoming traffic. The speed limit on this portion of the roadway is 55 mph.
Traffic slowed quickly and a car hit its brakes. The car behind that one then swerved toward the median and struck the tow truck injuring the State Trooper and the tow truck driver. The tow truck driver filed suit against the city of New York for failing to secure the accident scene in a safe manor for him to work. He alleged that he had spoken to the State Trooper and had waited to begin hooking up the vehicle until she had told him that it was safe for him to do so. The State Trooper advised that she never called to a wrecker and did not speak to the tow truck driver prior to the second accident that injured them both.
The court finds that the state is protected by statute against lawsuits generated in reference to its function as a government. The State “remains immune from negligence claims arising out of governmental functions such as police protection unless a special relationship with a person creates a specific duty to protect, and that person relies on performance of that duty” (Price v New York City Hous. Auth., 92 NY2d 553, 557-558).
The court found that the State Trooper was involved in a governmental function at the time of the accident since she was working a separate accident at the time. Since the tow truck driver was a contractor of the state and the contractor to the state “shall assume all responsibility and liability for damages and personal injury to persons or property that may accrue during the operation of any of contractor’s vehicles on the parkway through the negligence of itself, its agent, employees, or from any other cause, and agrees to hold harmless the State of New York, the parkway authority or other authority under whose jurisdiction the parkway lies, and the employees of these agencies.”
The court then grants the state of New York’s motion for summary judgment finding them immune to liability in the course of business. This is not a criminal case and no charges were filed against any of the parties.
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