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Articles Posted in Dangerous Road Cases

The City this Central New York personal injury lawyer calls home, Geneva, New York, recently amended its sidewalk law.  Many local homeowners are concerned about the effect this might have on their “liability” for snow and ice on sidewalks. Before the amendment, the City Code had said, and continues to say, that homeowners (and business owns) “shall at all times keep the sidewalk (abutting their property) free from ice, snow, grass, weeds, rubbish and other obstructions; and shall at all times keep said sidewalk in a good state of repair . . .”.  (Geneva City Code section 306-7).  The Code further said, “If any person shall neglect or refuse to comply with the requirements of this section as to snow, ice or other obstructions, or sidewalks out of repairs, the Director of Public Works may cause all necessary work to be done at the expense of the person so in default” (id.)  The amended law now states that, for snow and ice, the abutting property owner has only 24 hours from the cessation of snowfall to clean it up.

Bottom line, the City has upped the ante so that now, if you don’t remove the snow and ice within 24 hours, the City will do it and charge you for it.

The question for today’s blog post is, given the mandates of this City Code, can a passerby who slips on snow or ice or trips on a defect on the sidewalk abutting my property sue me for failing to remove snow or ice or otherwise failing to maintain the sidewalk abutting my property so that it is safe?

I sue for a living. I say that with pride.  I help injured folks get compensation from wrongdoers.  But when the wrongdoer is the Government, it gets tricky. And when I say “the government”, I mean not just “THE” Government, but all the cities, towns, counties, school districts legally deemed subdivisions of the State of New York. On the road to victory against such defendants lies a minefield of bombs.

The procedural requirements for suing the government are rigorous.  On the way to the finish line, government lawyers will be watching for your mistakes.  But not just watching.  Slung across their wool suit jackets, they carry a quiver packed with sharp arrows, legal defenses that are available only to government entities.

Why is suing the government so hard?  Because the legislature has deliberately set up an obstacle course between the injured victim and government money.

This Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer loves to travel all over the world.  I find other cultures and places fascinating.  Last year I went to Japan.  And this year it was Egypt, Jordan and Israel.  (Just got back last week).  See some pics I took above.

When I travel, because of what I do for a living, I can’t help noticing how other societies organize and structure their safety rules. I’m always on the lookout for dangerous conditions and am impressed when I see really safe practices. For example, in Japan I was impressed how pedestrians would wait for their light to turn green even when there was no motor vehicle anywhere near the intersection.  I went right ahead and crossed if there was nothing coming.  Made no sense to me to wait. The Japanese must have thought I was just another crazed foreigner.  The Japanese seem obsessed with safety, cleanliness and rule-following.  That’s probably one reason they live longer than any other people on the planet. Their average life expectancy is over 83 years.  Ours is only 78.

Egypt was another story.  I spent a few days in Cairo, a ramshackle city of 22,000,0000 people. It’s a fascinating place with thousands of years of history.  The people are friendly, the food delicious and the sites incredible. But safety?  Not a lot of emphasis on that.  For example, there are almost no rules for crossing the street.  I walked all over Cairo, and rarely did I see a crosswalk (and even then, motorists paid no attention to them).  So how do you cross a street in Cairo?  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  Here is a video I took of my wife, Alejandra, and I braving a stream of Cairene motorists:

Photo above:  A New York sidewalk defect, suitably marked with orange cones.

I love traveling and have done a lot of it, including in Mexico and Central America.  Right now I am in Costa Rica.  Love it here!  The people are super friendly, the climate is awesome, the food great.  The countryside is spectacular – active volcanoes, dense pristine jungles, and sandy beaches both on the Atlantic and Pacific costs. What’s not to like?

So far I can think of only one thing:  Their tort law.  Though I have not read their laws, I have to assume – from what I have seen – that someone injured through the negligence of others does not have much of a remedy in Court.  Take a look at this video I shot today before you read any further:

This fall your Central New York personal injury lawyer will again — for the 9th straight year — give his annual “CLE” (continuing legal education) class to fellow New York personal injury lawyers across New York State.  Once again I will be lecturing on the topic of governmental liability for causing personal injuries.  In other words, I’ll talk about how to hold the State and its various sub-divisions (counties, school districts, villages, towns etc.) liability for negligently causing personal injuries.  Each year, the New York State Trial Lawyers Academy invites me to do so.  I am invited to speak to rooms full of New York personal injury lawyers in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Manhattan, Queens, Long Island and more.

Why?  Because I have been fortunate enough through my work to become seen as one of the top experts in this field of law in New York State.  My articles on the subject have been published in New York’s most important law journals and magazines.  New York State judges sometimes cite to my work when they decide cases.

Suing governmental entities and agencies such as New York State or its cities, counties, school district, villages and towns is very different from suing a private wrongdoer such as a car driver or a hospital or a business.  The procedure is different, the time deadlines are different, the things you can sue for are different, and the defenses that can be raised are different.  You name it, it’s different.

Today a driver was seriously injured when she careened over an embankment at a sharp curve on Lakeshore Road, near Ontario Ave, in Cicero, near the edge of Oneida Lake. Some witnesses say the car was going too fast, but a neighbor was quoted in the paper saying the curve has a history of bad crashes.

The “history of bad crashes” caught my eye. By force of habit, my NY car accident lawyer thinking cap went on. Get under that cap with me for a moment.

Here’s my stream of thought: “Could this unfortunate driver, even if she was going a bit too fast, bring a claim against the State, County, Town or whoever designed the roadway? Did the design of the roadway contribute to her car accident? Was the posted speed limit too fast? Were there adequate signs announcing the curve? Should they have installed flashing yellow lights or other hazard warnings for the curve?”

Last Sunday a van careered across several lanes of traffic on a highway overpass on the Bronx River Parkway before plunging off the side of the road and landing, upside down, in the Bronx Zoo, where all seven occupants, including three children, met their death. Yes, the van driver was surely at fault. He was probably speeding (68 in a 50 mile per hour zone), and he should not have lost control of his vehicle. But that doesn’t let the State of New York off the hook if it failed to design and maintain a safe roadway.

And it sure looks like New York State screwed up here. The van apparently hit a concrete curb on the right side of the roadway, which catapulted the van so high that it completely cleared, without touching, the four-foot high guardrail/fence.

This is totally unacceptable. What kind of engineering genius would put concrete curbs that act as launching pads for errant cars and send them flying over the guardrails? Make no sense at all.

In an article entitled “NY DOT chief nixes big fixes for Onondaga Lake Parkway railroad bridge”, the Syracuse Post Standard quotes a top New York Department of Transportation official as saying that structural design changes to keep trucks, buses and other tall vehicles from crashing against the railroad bridge above the Onondaga Lake Parkway are too expensive and impractical. According to this official, while other less costly, minor improvements might be possible (including tinkering with the warning signs’ height), major structural changes aimed at eliminating the low clearance of the bridge are all but impossible.

How does a Syracuse bus accident attorney go about investigating this defense? Well, first, he or she would have to recognize that this “we couldn’t do it” defense is not new. It was probably invented about the same time as roads were! Therefore, there is a whole body New York roadway design liability case law that defines the parameters of this defense.

Here’s what that law says in a nutshell: While a governmental entity (such as the State of New York or Onondaga County) has a duty to plan, design, construct and maintain reasonably safe roads, highways, streets, bridges, intersection and traffic control devices, they have what’s known as “qualified immunity” from liability. Under this “qualified immunity”, the governmental body may be held liable only when its roadway design was “plainly inadequate or there was no reasonable basis for its plan or design”. The State or County can’t be held liable just because there might have been a better, safer design. The actual design has to be, in light of all the circumstances, “plainly inadequate” or “unreasonable”. Further, once the State is made aware that something about the road is dangerous (for example, tall trucks keep crashing against the bridge!), it must then undertake new studies to see if the danger can be reduced.

At about 2:30 a.m. this morning, the top of a double-decker bus smashed into an overpass railroad bridge spanning the Onondaga Lake Parkway. The impact threw the entire bus on its side. The bus had left from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and was making its way to Toronto with scheduled stops in Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. There were apparently about 25 passengers on board, of which four are now dead, and several suffer serious injuries. A bus company spokesperson said that the driver had not made his scheduled stop in Syracuse, and that the bus was not on its scheduled bus route.

Our hearts go out to the families of the dead, and to the injured. Even those who are not seriously injured are undoubtedly experiencing severe emotional distress and post traumatic shock at this time.

As a Syracuse New York vehicular accident lawyer, I can tell you that this kind of accident cannot happen without some negligence or carelessness on the part of someone.

I recently blogged about defective roadway cases. A recent New York dangerous road lawsuit demonstrates some of the principles I talked about in that blog post.

In Popolizio v. County of Schenectady, a driver lost control of his car on the steep downgrade of a snowy County road, and slid his car straight across the road as it curved to the right, causing his car to leave the roadway and nose-dive into a steep-sided, twelve-foot wide, four-foot deep ditch. Despite the fact that the driver had lost control of his car and left the roadway, he got a $2,100,000 award after a trial for severe brain injuries he suffered when his car struck the far side of the ditch head-on.

How did he win? The injured man’s New York roadway defect attorneys won the case by presenting testimony from a highway engineering expert who explained that the design of the ditch did not meet acceptable engineering standards. The expert said that constructing such a ditch right next to a right-angle curve in the road was unacceptably dangerous because any cars that left the roadway there would plunge into the ditch and hit the bank of the ditch head on. The ditch should have been built so that a car going off the roadway could traverse it, or else guardrails should have been installed to prevent motor vehicles from plunging into the ditch.

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