WILLIAM J. LAKE, Appellant,
STATE OF NEW YORK, Respondent.
Calendar Date: April 27, 2017
Hinman, Howard & Kattell, LLP, East Greenbush (Linda B.
Johnson of counsel) and Steven P. Shultz, Gansevoort, for
T. Schneiderman, Attorney General, Albany (Owen Demuth of
counsel), for respondent.
Before: Peters, P.J., Garry, Devine, Mulvey and Aarons, JJ.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
from a judgment of the Court of Claims (Hard, J.), entered
November 4, 2015, upon a decision of the court in favor of
28, 2010, claimant was riding his motorcycle to work on a
state-owned freeway in Albany County commonly referred to as
alternate Route 7. Claimant was traveling westbound in the
right "climbing lane" and was traveling at or below
the speed limit of 65 miles per hour. The pickup truck in
front of him abruptly braked and moved into the center lane,
cutting off a vehicle in the center lane that swerved toward
claimant. Claimant sped up to avoid the swerving vehicle,
moved further right and struck a disabled vehicle.
ensuing injuries prompted claimant to commence this action
and allege, among other things, that defendant negligently
designed and maintained the road and failed to adequately
monitor the safety impact of a 2003 speed limit increase on
the road. The Court of Claims dismissed the claim following a
trial on the issue of liability, finding that the claims
relating to negligent design and maintenance were barred by
qualified immunity and that any deficiencies in monitoring
safety on the road were not the proximate cause of
claimant's injuries. Claimant now appeals.
this appeal from a judgment issued after a nonjury trial, we
independently review the weight of the evidence, accord due
deference to the trial judge's credibility assessments
and factual findings and grant the judgment warranted by the
record (see Mahoney v State of New York, 147 A.D.3d
1289, 1290 ; Williams v State of New York, 140
A.D.3d 1376, 1377 ). Our review leads us to agree with
the Court of Claims that the claim should be dismissed and,
as a result, we affirm.
has a "duty to keep its roadways in a reasonably safe
condition, " but "is afforded 'a qualified
immunity from liability arising out of a highway planning
decision'" (Turturro v City of New York, 28
N.Y.3d 469, 479-480 , quoting Friedman v State of
New York, 67 N.Y.2d 271, 283 ; see Schroeder v
State of New York, 145 A.D.3d 1204, 1204 ).
Qualified immunity does not attach where defendant's
"study of a traffic condition is plainly inadequate or
there is no reasonable basis for its traffic plan, "
however, and it falls on defendant to show that its actions
resulted from a sufficiently deliberative process
(Friedman v State of New York, 67 N.Y.2d at 284;
accord Turturro v City of New York, 28 N.Y.3d at
480; see Evans v State of New York, 130 A.D.3d 1352,
1354 , lv denied 26 N.Y.3d 910');">26 N.Y.3d 910 ).
cites various alleged deficiencies in the design of Route 7
relating to his assertion that the four-foot wide shoulder
where the disabled vehicle was parked was too narrow. Route 7
is a four-lane freeway originally designed for traffic speeds
of 70 miles per hour but, due to it being on a prolonged
incline, a third "climbing lane" was added in the
westbound direction to allow slow vehicles to make their way
uphill without posing difficulties for other drivers. The
credible proof at trial indicated that the shoulder width
reflected the slower vehicles traveling in a climbing lane
that was wide enough, in any case, to allow vehicles to pass
a disabled vehicle on the shoulder. The record further
reveals that the shoulder design was appropriate under the
guidelines in place when the road was designed and built
. Inasmuch as the shoulder "that
was installed met the relevant design standards in effect at
the time of its construction, " the Court of Claims
properly concluded that defendant cannot be held liable for
that design (Schwartz v New York State Thruway
Auth., 61 N.Y.2d 955, 956 ; see Light v State
of New York, 250 A.D.2d 988, 989 , lv
denied 92 N.Y.2d 807');">92 N.Y.2d 807 ).
further agree with defendant that the remaining failings on
its part, assuming that they existed, were not the proximate
cause of claimant's injuries. Claimant asserted that
defendant was negligent in raising the speed limit on Route 7
from 55 to 65 miles per hour in 2003 without adequate study
and then failing to monitor the safety of the road with the
higher speed limit. Claimant testified, however, that he was
traveling between 55 and 65 miles per hour when the accident
occurred, the prevailing speed on Route 7 even before the
speed limit was increased. The police report did not cite
speed as a factor in the accident which, in fact, resulted
from the unexpected actions of other drivers and claimant
following the pickup truck so closely that he could not see
the disabled vehicle in front of the truck and react as
needed. Claimant accordingly failed to show how the
circumstances leading to the accident were in any way "a
normal or foreseeable consequence of the situation created
by... defendant's [purported] negligence" in raising
the speed limit and failing to monitor traffic safety
(Derdiarian v Felix Contr. Corp., 51 N.Y.2d 308, 315
; accord Turturro v City of New York, 28
N.Y.3d at 484). "Thus, even if [claimant] had shown that
defendant had breached a duty with regard to the speed limit
or [subsequent safety monitoring], there was no showing that
such a breach was a proximate cause of the accident"
(Lindquist v County of Schoharie, 126 A.D.3d 1096,
1101 ; see Canals v Tilcon N.Y., Inc., 135
A.D.3d 683, 684-685 ; Rodriguez v City of New
York, 259 A.D.2d 280, 280 ).
remaining contentions have been examined and ...