Appellate court holds New York liable in wrongful death accident

A New York appellate court found the state liable for the death of a driver who ran off an elevated portion of Interstate 81. Just 36 hours before the accident, a former Mayor of East Syracuse died in a substantially similar accident a mere few hundred yards away.

The fatal car accidents occurred on elevated portions of I-81. Snowbanks along the guardrail allowed the vehicles to vault over the protective devices, resulting in fatalities in each accident as the cars fell to the pavement below.

On January 25, 2004, a 50-year-old Lyons resident slid on the elevated roadway and crashed into the snow piled up along the guardrail. His vehicle jumped over the guardrail and fell 49-feet to the pavement below. The car landed on its roof and the 50-year-old driver died.

The snowbanks were created as Transportation plows cleared the roadway, leaving snowbanks piled up along the guardrails on the elevated portion of the highway. A judge in the Court of Claims found that the state had created the dangerous condition, but should not be held liable due to the limited resources the state had to correct the problem in the 36 hours that elapsed between the accidents.

The appellate court disagreed and reversed the lower court. The appellate court says the state should have removed the snowbank instead of plowing 2.1 inches of new snow that fell between the two accidents. The appellate court ruled that the lower court erred in dismissing the lawsuit filed by the estate of the 50-year-old driver. The appellate court remanded the case to determine the amount of damages.

The same judge in the Court of Claims dismissed a case brought by the estate of the former mayor who died in the first accident. That case is also on appeal.

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