Municipalities and Their Liability for Dangerous Roadways

While many motor vehicle accidents occur as a result of driver negligence, there are some roadways which in themselves are inherently dangerous and cause a great number of accidents. Road hazards that lead to motor vehicle accidents may include the following:

  • Poor maintenance of roadways such as potholes and cracks in the pavement or signs that have fallen or cannot be seen due to overgrowth of foliage;
  • Design defects such as the failure to place guardrails strategically at curved portions of roadways, improper placement of signs, not constructing proper drainage for rainwater and insufficient line markings on the road; and
  • Roads that have speed limits that are too high for the road’s design.

Municipalities have a duty to alleviate known hazardous road conditions. This duty, however, is not absolute. Governmental entities enjoy what is known as governmental immunity. What this means is that it is not enough to show that the road was in itself unsafe. It must be shown that either that the study conducted prior to the road construction/design was inadequate or that the decision it made in regard to construction/design following the study was unreasonable.

For a municipality to be liable, it must first be made aware of the dangerous condition of the roadway. One of the most common ways in which it can be shown a municipality knew or should have known of the dangerous road condition, is if there is a history of prior accidents at that specific location. However, prior accidents are only admissible at trial if facts of the prior accidents are substantially similar to the accident being litigated. It is in the judge’s discretion, which prior accidents meet this criterion and are therefore admissible as evidence of prior notice. It is for this reason it is important that you retain the services of an attorney who has experience in litigating dangerous roadway cases. Cases against municipalities for dangerous conditions on roadways can be difficult and an attorney must have a good understanding of the law.

The attorneys at Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP, represented a motorcyclist in a claim against a local municipality for injuries sustained as a result of an accident with another vehicle at a very dangerous section of a roadway. The motorcyclist sustained devastating injuries including a brain injury, multiple fractures to his spine, as well as nerve injuries to his arm which ultimately resulted in the amputation of his right arm. In investigating prior accidents, it was learned that just 8 months prior to our client’s accident, a near identical motorcycle accident occurred at the same location resulting in the motorcyclist’s death. Unfortunately, the motorcyclist’s estate did not realize they had a viable claim against the municipality and was never compensated for the motorcyclist’s injuries. Many drivers who are involved in accidents because of a dangerous roadway never seek compensation for their injuries because they are unaware they may have a claim. If you are involved in an accident on a dangerous roadway, you should contact the attorneys at Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP for a thorough evaluation of your accident so that you do not lose out on being compensated for your injuries.

The Right To Recover For Diving Injury

As summer approaches, many families will be heading to the pool, oceans and lakes to enjoy the cool water to escape the summer heat. Although pools, oceans and lakes are havens to enjoy favorite summer pastimes including swimming, boating and jet skiing; they can also be dangerous bodies of water in which people drown or sustain serious injuries. Tragically, from 2005-2014 there were 3,456 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States each year.

What many people may not be aware of is the prevalence of injuries sustained from diving. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, an estimated 11,000 spinal cord injuries occur every year. These injuries result in paralysis, and/or traumatic brain injury. 90% of diving victims who hit their head on the bottom became quadriplegic. Among the leading causes of spinal cord injuries, diving ranked 4th for males and 5th for females.  In one study of persons enrolled in the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center database, 57% of the injuries occurred when diving in less than 4 feet of water and 38% occurred at depths between 4 and 8 feet.

Under New York law, diving head first into a pool is not an intended use of pools and not a foreseeable use to manufacturers, retailers and landowners. However, if it can be shown that the defendant was negligent you may be able to recover for your injuries.

In what has become a frequently cited case in New York, Cynthia Fichera, a partner of Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP, litigated on behalf of one of the plaintiffs in the matter of Kriz v. Schum before the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, 75 NY2d 25 (1989). In that case, in which the court decided two cases at once, Mrs. Fichera argued on behalf of a young woman who dove off of a slide into a pool and struck her head on the bottom rendering her a quadriplegic. The young woman did not see her friends dive into the pool and was not aware of the pool depth when she dove into the shallow end. The court found in favor of Mrs. Fichera’s client on the basis that it was foreseeable that she would dive off of the slide and that the defendants’ failure to advise of her of the pool depth contributed to her accident.

Denkensohn v. Aquaslide and Dive, 914 F2d 262 (9th Cir. 1990), (a separate action filed in federal court) also held the slide manufacturer liable for failing to include adequate instructions and warnings with the slide.

The courts have consistently held that property owners have a duty to warn possible users of a lake or a pool of its depth. In a 2011 case, the New York Court of Appeals held that the State, as a property owner, was under the duty to warn possible users of a lake where there was spillway caused the water depth to fluctuate between 3 and 10 feet. However, in that case the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim because there was overwhelming evidence that the plaintiff was familiar with the area and had specific knowledge that the water depth varied and could be extremely shallow. The court followed the general rule that when plaintiff’s actions are the sole proximate cause of an accident, the case should be dismissed.

This summer, as you and your family head to the pools, oceans and lakes, be conscious of the dangers of diving and potential for shallow water. Taking these precautions into consideration may prevent a lifetime of disability. In the event of an accident keep in mind that over the years the law firm of Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP has obtained successful recoveries of millions of dollars on behalf of plaintiffs injured in diving accidents and have the knowledge to help you get compensation for your injuries.



Can I Sue the State of New York?

What happens if the person who causes your injury is employed by the State of New York?  In general, the State is responsible for injuries caused by the negligence of employees while acting within the course of their employment, such as a car or other motor vehicle accident, a slip and fall or even an accident covered by the New York Labor Law.  In order to pursue a claim to recover damages from the State for injuries you have received, you will want to retain an attorney who is experienced in pursuing claims against the State.  Although lawsuits against the State of New York are permitted, they are governed by a different set of rules and are even brought in a separate court than other lawsuits.  While lawsuits against private citizens, corporations and even towns, cities and counties can usually be brought in New York State Supreme Court, lawsuits against the State and certain State-related entities have their own court called the Court of Claims.

The State also has its own deadlines for filing claims.  A Claim generally must be filed with the Clerk of the Court and served upon the Attorney General within 90 days of the happening of the accident, unless an Intention to File Clam form is served within that time, which will extend the deadline in the case of negligence to two years from the date of the accident.

One of the other differences is that your case will be decided by a judge, rather than a jury.  Claims brought against the State arising out of accidents that happen in the Hudson Valley are usually tried in White Plains or Albany, New York, which differs from accident cases against other defendants which may be filed in New York Supreme Courts, which are located in each county.

Spiegel, Brown, Fichera & Coté partner Cynthia K. Fichera has experience in obtaining recoveries against the State of New York, including $1.7 million for wrongful death in a case where a stop sign was partially blocked by a tree, $1.2 million for a foot and knee injury sustained in a car accident where a prison van pulled out in front of the injured client’s car, and $80,000 for a knee and ankle injury sustained from a slip and fall on ice on the State’s property.  Spiegel, Brown, Fichera & Coté has also brought claims against the State of New York for accidents involving slip and falls on ice, slip and falls on damaged sidewalks and premises liability on SUNY campuses.

Spiegel, Brown, Fichera & Coté provide experienced injury litigation services throughout Dutchess County and the Hudson Valley, including Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park, Highland, Wappingers Falls, LaGrange, Unionvale, Pleasant Valley, Fishkill, Beacon, East Fishkill and Hopewell Junction, as well as Ulster, Orange and Putnam Counties.