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Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
March 1, 1997
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County Assumes No Duty by Assigning Police to State Intersections During Power Outage

In a wrongful death action resulting from an automobile collision at the intersection of two state highways, a representative of the estate of Constantine Konstantatos sued New York s Suffolk County. The plaintiff claimed the county owed a duty to motorists traveling on a state highway during a power failure because county personnel regularly patrolled the highway and had directed traffic at some intersections while traffic signals were not working. When the Supreme Court of Suffolk County denied the county s move for summary judgment, the county appealed. The Supreme Court, Appellate Division, reversed the decision.

The Collision

On July 27, 1986, Konstantatos died in a two-car collision at the intersection of New York State Route 347 and State Route 454 in Suffolk County. Severe weather caused a power outage about two hours before the collision, and traffic signals at the intersection of Routes 347 and 454, and at other intersections in the area, were not working. Although the county assigned personnel to patrol some intersections where signals had failed, no police patrolled the intersection where the collision occurred.

Lower Court's Decision

In suing the county, the plaintiff argued that the county s failure to assign personnel to the intersection where the collision happened constituted negligence. The county moved for summary judgment, pointing out that the collision happened at an intersection of state highways and that the county did not own or maintain state highways. Nor did the county own or maintain traffic signals where state highways intersected. In addition, the county contended it owed no special duty to the deceased because of the presence of county personnel on state highways in performance of regular patrol duties or because county personnel patrolled some state intersections during the power failure. The lower court denied summary judgment, however, and identified an issue of fact concerning whether the Police Department s assumption of traffic control on the night in question created a special duty to plaintiff s decedent and that its performance failed to meet the standard of ordinary care.

Appellate Court's Decision

When considering the county s appeal, the appellate court cited Schulman v. City of New York (190 A.D.2d 663, 593 N.Y.S.2d 286) and other cases to establish that, in order to sustain a claim of negligence, the plaintiff must show the county owed a duty to the deceased. However, it was not disputed that the state, not the county, owned and had the duty to maintain the highways that intersected where the collision happened and the traffic signals controlling that intersection. The appellate court rejected the plaintiff s argument that the country assumed liability for collisions occurring on state highways because county police enforced traffic regulations on those highways. Taken to its logical conclusion, the appellate court contended, the plaintiff s argument would render a municipality responsible in tort for the consequences of any condition existing on a roadway which it neither owns, designs, maintains, controls or repairs, simply because it enforces traffic regulations there.

In addition, the county argued they did not, as the plaintiff claimed, assume an affirmative duty to deploy police to the intersection where the collision happened because they assigned police patrols to other intersections during the power failure. According to the county, they had never assigned police to patrol the intersection where the collision happened, and there was no reason to believe Konstantatos was relying on the country to perform in any particular way on the night of the collision. Agreeing with the county, the appellate court cited Cuffy v. City of New York (69 N.Y.2d 255, 260, 513 N.Y.S.2d 372, 505 N.E.2d 937) to show that the plaintiff had to prove (1) the county had, through action or promise, assumed a duty and (2) Konstantatos was justified in relying on that action or promise. The court decided the county had taken no such action nor made any such promise, and the evidence did not support an assumption that Konstantatos had justifiably relied on the county to prevent the collision.

Finding no duty for the county, the appellate court found no liability. Therefore, the court reversed the lower court s decision and granted summary judgment for the county.

[Estate of Konstantatos v. County of Suffolk (A.D.2 Dept. 1994) from West Publishing Vol. 618 New York Supplement, 2d Series, 90]

Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.

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