Nassau County Police Car Accident is Police Officer's Fault
Nassau County is seeking tp avoid the recovery of property damage in this case where an “accident happened at or near the intersection of Ellison Avenue and Morningside Drive in Westbury, New York. Plaintiff, State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co…paid for repair of the Licata vehicle, and thus brings a subrogation claim for property damage.” The police vehicle was involved in a funeral procession and did not have its overhead lights or sirens in use. The estimator, having “New York State Independent Adjuster License…estimated the damage to the Licata vehicle at $8,257.13.”
Among other issues in this case is, relevant for this website here, “ 2. Is the County of Nassau entitled to the protection of VTL § 1104 which requires the Plaintiff to demonstrate the Police Officer acted recklessly? [and] 3. Does the "other emergency" standard contained in VTL § 114-b provide the reckless standard to protect Police Officer Teushler from liability while escorting a funeral procession?
VTL § 114-b covers Emergency operation, defined as “The operation, or parking, of an authorized emergency vehicle, when such vehicle is engaged in, [among other things]…pursuing an actual or suspected violator of the law, or responding to, or working or assisting at the scene of an accident, disaster, police call, alarm or fire, actual or potential release of hazardous materials or other emergency [but,] Emergency operations shall not include returning from such service."
VTL § 1602 states: "(a) Whenever a police officer shall deem it advisable during a fire or at the time of any accident or special emergency and only for such period of time as is necessitated thereby for the public safety or convenience, temporarily to close any street or part thereof to vehicular traffic, or to vehicles of a certain description, or to divert the traffic thereof, or to divert or break a course of pedestrian traffic, such official shall have power and authority to do so.”
While A police vehicle is an authorized "emergency vehicle" within the ambit of VTL §§ 101 and 1104, see Wilmot v. City of New York, 73 AD2d 201, 426 NYS2d 8 (1st Dept 1980), State Farm states that it was not acting as an emergency vehicle at the time(s) of the accident. The Court eloquently states:
There is no question that the police vehicle was not engaged in one of the emergency situations explicitly articulated in VTL § 114-b so as to qualify for the reckless standard for liability. To qualify for the reckless standard, the police vehicle would have to come within the definition "or other emergency" set forth in VTL § 114-b. The VTL does not expressly define "or other emergency." There is no reported case dealing with an emergency situation and funeral procession.
Nassau County seeks reprieve under this doctrine which the Court denies. Nassau County’s argument is that VTL § 1602 authorized the police officer’s actions as an emergency, thereby requiring the reckless standard to be applied. The Court rejects this because, to be applicable, VTL § 1602 requires an accident or special emergency. “No special emergency existed when [the police officer] moved his vehicle into the northbound lane on Ellison to proceed to direct traffic at Old Country Road.” Again, this was a funeral procession involving a marked police vehicle.
The Second Department has also refused to invoke the emergency doctrine where the police officers were en route to investigate a past burglary which was a nonemergency call. The police car was traveling at a normal speed, without having activated the siren or dome lights. See LaMotta v. City of New York, 130 AD2d 627, 515 NYS2d 554 (2nd Dept 1987).
Accordingly, this Court “declines to apply the emergency standard to the police officer escorting the funeral procession in the instant case.” The reasons are simple: there was no emergency during this funeral procession.
1. The reckless standard is inapplicable here because no emergency existed. Liability will be determined by the ordinary rules of negligence.
2. State Farm is entitled to recover 40% of $8,257.13 or $3,302.85.
3. The County of Nassau is entitled to 60% of $2,224.61 or $1,334.76.”
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