December 13, 2018

Applying the Vehicle and Traffic Law's qualified statutory privilege available to drivers of emergency vehicles involved in an accident


Applying the Vehicle and Traffic Law's qualified statutory privilege available to drivers of emergency vehicles involved in an accident
Chesney v City of Yonkers, 2018 NY Slip Op 08277, Appellate Division, Second Department

Edward Chesney was struck by a City of Yonkers police vehicle as he attempted to cross a street within a crosswalk against a traffic light in Yonkers and sustained personal injuries. Chesney sued the City to recover damages for the injuries he has suffered, advancing the theory injury-causing conduct of the driver of the police vehicle was governed by the "principles of ordinary negligence."

Yonkers moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, contending that the police officer's conduct in the operation of the vehicle was governed by the "reckless disregard standard of care" under the qualified statutory privilege for drivers of emergency vehicles engaged in emergency operations set our in Vehicle and Traffic Law §1104[e].

Supreme Court applied the reckless disregard standard of care, and granted the City's motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Chesney appealed.

The Appellate Division explained that the reckless disregard standard of care set out in Vehicle and Traffic Law §1104(e)* "applies when a driver of an authorized emergency vehicle involved in an emergency operation engages in the specific conduct exempted from the rules of the road by §1104(b)" and "Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104(b)(3) permits the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle involved in an emergency operation to "[e]xceed the maximum speed limits so long as he [or she] does not endanger life or property." Any other injury-causing conduct of such a driver, said the court, is governed by the principles of ordinary negligence, citing Kabir v County of Monroe, 16 NY3d 217.

The Appellate Division said that Yonkers, in support of its motion for summary judgment, had submitted evidence, including a surveillance video of the accident and deposition transcripts sufficient to show that, at the time of the accident, the police officer was operating an authorized emergency vehicle and involved in an emergency operation, and that he was operating the vehicle in excess of the maximum speed limit. In addition, said the court, Yonkers "demonstrated that, based upon the speed of the vehicle, the officer was unable to stop his vehicle in time to avoid a collision with the plaintiff."

As the "injury-causing conduct" was operation of the vehicle in excess of the speed limit, the Appellate Division said that Supreme Court properly applied the reckless disregard standard of care. The court noted that Yonkers had submitted evidence demonstrating, prima facie, that "the police officer's vehicle had a green light, that Chesney was in the crosswalk near the middle of the road attempting to cross the street against the light, and the officer attempted to brake in order to avoid contact." In contrast, the Appellate Division noted that Chesney failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the officer acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division sustained Supreme Court's granting of Yonkers' motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. 


* (e) This provisions does not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from his or her duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor do these provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his or her reckless disregard for the safety of others.

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