Uncontrolled Intersection

I was involved in a fender bender in a remote area upstate. Neither of the roads at the accident intersection had a traffic control. Do I have a claim against the other driver for my property damage?

The best answer is let your insurance company handle the problem. If you have a collision endorsement on your car insurance policy, you should report the claim to your insurance company. Your insurance carrier will pay your property damage claim. You will have to pay your deductible to the repair shop. (So if you have a $500 deductible, you are responsible for the first $500 in damage and your insurance company will pay for the rest of the repair bill.) Your insurance company then has a “right of subrogation.” This means that the insurance company has the right to stand in your shoes and bring a lawsuit for property damage against the other driver in this accident. Your insurance company has their own legal staff to make such claims. You do not need to hire your own lawyer to bring a lawsuit for property damage. Furthermore, if the case goes well against the other driver, you will get back your entire deductible.

But if you do not have a collision endorsement on your car insurance policy, then you will have to bring your own lawsuit. Most attorneys do not handle such claims. You can bring your claim in small claims court. Small Claims Court now has jurisdiction to handle claims up to $10,000. On Staten Island, Small Claims are handled through the Civil Court building located on Castleton Avenue. There is some assistance offered to help you fill out paperwork to start the lawsuit against the other driver.

The applicable law for this case is found in Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1140. When two vehicles enter a traffic with no traffic control, the vehicle on the left must yield the right of way to the vehicle on the right. Beyond that, it is up to both drivers to be aware that there are no traffic controls at the intersection. Furthermore, both drivers are charged with using “reasonable” care entering the intersection. Each of the drivers would tell their story to the judge or arbitrator in Small Claims Court. And then, the judge or arbitrator would make an award, based upon a finding of fault.

Emergency Situation

I was badly cut attempting to remove someone from their car through a broken window. I had seen an accident between two cars and stopped to see if I could call an ambulance. The car that was struck by another car crossing over a double yellow line was stuck in a ditch. When I got to the car in the ditch, the driver seemed to be panicking, trying to get out through the broken driver’s window. When I tried to help the driver through the window, I was badly cut and needed to be hospitalized myself. Do I have a case against anyone?

The short answer is yes. In prior blogs, the “common law” has been explained to be a legal principal that is announced in a legal decision, and over the course of decades, becomes law just like any statute that is passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. The particular common law in this case is called the Emergency Situation Doctrine.

Judge Cardozo used the phrase “danger invites rescue” in an important Court of Appeals decision explaining the Emergency Situation Doctrine over a hundred years ago. The doctrine states that when a person sees another person in danger, the person who attempts to help the person in danger has a claim against the negligent parties that created the dangerous situation. (The person attempting the rescue though cannot act in a reckless manner.)

In this case, when you saw the two vehicle collision, you were compelled to see what you could do to help the people involved. You stated that your main goal was to see if people were injured, and if so, to summon an ambulance. When you came upon the person panicking, you attempted to assist that person from their vehicle. You were injured assisting that person exiting the vehicle.

Your claim is against the party or parties that created the situation. You may have a claim against both drivers. You have a claim against the driver that crossed over the yellow line because that driver was not following the Vehicle and Traffic Law in their vehicle operation and that conduct would be negligent. However, the driver you rescued could be negligent if that driver did not take any action to avoid an accident that might have been avoided. Statements from both drivers might be evaluated by a jury to determine if there was fault on both drivers.

Pedestrian Knockdown

When I was driving, a person stepped out onto the roadway and I struck him. I never saw the pedestrian because he unexpectedly began walking from the sidewalk onto the road. What should I do?

I assume you already spoke to police at the accident scene. The first thing you should do is contact your insurance company immediately. The insurance premiums you pay provide that your insurance carrier will defend and indemnify you for accidents. That means that your insurance company will hire attorneys to represent you in any negligence case that is brought. Your insurance company will also be responsible to pay for damages up to the amount of your insurance policy limits. If you have a separate umbrella policy, you should notify that carrier as well of the accident. As long as you notify your insurance company about an accident in a timely fashion you should be protected.

Since you were vague about your description of the accident, there are a few issues about which you should probably be aware. These legal points all are centered on the Vehicle and Traffic Law. Some of these laws may seem contradictory, but once you can get a clear picture of the facts, there will be no contradictions.

Was the pedestrian in a crosswalk at the time of the accident? Vehicle and Traffic Law § 110 defines crosswalk. Not only are painted lines across the road considered a crosswalk, but there are “unmarked” crosswalks. At the end of a block, there are “imaginary” lines that connect the “lateral lines” of sidewalks on each side of a roadway. Those “imaginary” lines are a cross walk and the pedestrian has the right of way.

If your accident occurred where there were no traffic signals, Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1151(a) apply. Pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks (marked or unmarked). But pedestrians must yield the right of way to cars if they are crossing in an area that has no crosswalk, under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1152.

There are also “common law” duties, meaning that there is no statute defining this duty, but judicial decisions over the course of decades have imposed duties on motorists. One common law duty is to “see what there is to be seen.” So even if a pedestrian is in the road, not at a crosswalk and in an area without traffic controls, the driver still could be liable. Thus, in the question when you mentioned “I never saw the pedestrian.” Do you mean that you never saw the pedestrian at all or you never saw the pedestrian until it was too late to avoid the accident? The last issue will probably be huge in determining accident responsibility.

Impaired Drivers

I was injured in a car accident. The other driver looked like she was drunk or impaired in some way. Will my case be affected by the other driver’s condition?

There are two ways the other driver’s condition may affect your case. A person who drives a car in an impaired state is held to the same standard of care as a sober driver. Furthermore, if the driver took a breathalyzer test, the results of that test would be admissible at trial. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 lists categories of impairment based on the amount of alcohol in a person’s body and the jury would be aware of the test results and the categories of impairment. If the impaired driver refuses to take a breathalyzer test at the scene, that fact a driver refused to take a breathalyzer test at the scene of an accident would also be admissible at trial under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1194. So a jury would be aware of all the circumstances of the accident and would be instructed to judge the standard of care of the impaired driver as if the driver were sober.

The second affect on your case may be less helpful. Most auto insurance policies have a clause which gives insurance companies the right to disclaim coverage for an impaired driver. If the insurance carrier for the other vehicle disclaims coverage, it may be in your interest to legally fight that disclaimer. If you lose that fight with the impaired driver’s insurance company, you would have the right to bring a claim against your own insurance policy for an uninsured motorist claim. Every auto insurance policy must provide benefits for a driver involved in an uninsured accident. This means if the carrier for the impaired driver successfully disclaims coverage, you could pursue a bodily injury against your own carrier for an uninsured motorist claim.

Police Liability

I was hit in my car at an intersection by a police car. I had the right of way. Can I sue the police for my injuries?

Possibly. There are a number of procedural and substantive hoops you must go through to bring your case. Since you did not provide many facts, I will outline the issues you would need to consider to answer you question.

First, the procedural issues are the same for all municipal claims. The NYC Police Department falls under the City of New York (as opposed to an agency which has its own set of rules), so your claim is against the City of New York. There are two deadlines of which you must be aware. Claimants against the City of New York must present a notice of claim to the City within 90 days of an accident. Second, the claimant must attend a Comptroller’s hearing under General Municipal Law § 50-h. Third, the claimant must start a lawsuit (that is file a summons and complaint) within one year and 90 days after the accident.

The next topic concerns the substantive defenses for police entering an intersection. At this point I will assume that the policeman driving the car was not just impatient and blew through a red light. Instead, I will assume the police car was responding to an emergency. Under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104, police cars responding to emergency have a different standard of care than the police car just on patrol NOT responding to an emergency.

An injured plaintiff must prove that the police car operator was operating with “reckless disregard for the safety of others.” (The normal standard of care in personal injury cases is a preponderance of evidence demonstrating negligence. The “reckless” standard was intended to make injured parties prove a higher degree of culpability.) The relevant questions would be if the police officers had BOTH lights and sirens on at the time of the accident. The police officer would also need to testify how he entered the intersection. Did the police car slow down before it entered the intersection or did it speed into the intersection? There are number of questions that the police car driver would need to answer so the jury could determine if the police car was liable for your injuries.