Improper road maintenance is an often overlooked cause of car accidents in New York. While highway maintenance agencies are understandably overworked, especially during the winter months when they have to deal with frequent inclement weather, the state has a responsibility to maintain safe road conditions. When it fails in that duty, the victims and their families may seek compensation in court.
Retired Colonel's Death Blamed on Improper Bridge Maintenance
Recently the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, addressed such a case for the second time. A retired Air Force colonel was killed when his car slid across a bridge, hit a snowbank packed against the concrete barrier at the edge of the bridge, and vaulted off the bridge entirely onto the road below. The victim's family subsequently sued the State of New York for wrongful death.
In New York, personal injury claims against the state are heard by a special tribunal known as the Court of Claims. That court initially rejected the family's wrongful death lawsuit, holding that the state lacked the “resources and manpower” to clear the snowbank even though they had notice of the problem due to a second fatal accident that took place 36 hours before the victim in this case died. The state argued they followed applicable state guidelines and prioritized the removal of additional snowfall over clearing the snowbank. But in a2010 opinion, the Fourth Department rejected that conclusion and reversed the Court of Claims. The appeals court said the evidence showed there was only “minimal” snow and ice accumulations in between the two fatal accidents, leaving the state plenty of time to correct a “deadly condition” on the bridge.
Having ruled that the state was therefore responsible for the accident, the Fourth Department returned the case to the Court of Claims to determine damages. In 2012, the claims judge awarded over $3.5 million in damages to the decedent's estate and children. On asecond appeal to the Fourth Department, that court slightly reduced parts of the award. Specifically, the court said awards of $275,100 and $473,400 to the decedent's two children for past “loss of support” of their father was not supported by the evidence. The children were 19 and 15 at the time of the accident, and based on that, the Fourth Department said their damages should be limited to $175,000 and $250,000, respectively. The Fourth Department said other parts of the award, including $875,000 for the children’s “loss of parental guidance” and $250,000 to the estate for the victim's “pre-impact terror,” were justified by the evidence and the law.