Traffic Agent’s Alleged Negligent Acts Were “Discretionary”, Precluding Liability in Car Accident Case

In Miller v. City of New York, a car accident case decided April 16, 2014, the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed the lower court’s decision denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and held that they were entitled to dismissal of plaintiffs’ complaint and all claims against them. This is a long way of saying “plaintiffs lose.”

On the day of the accident, plaintiffs’ and defendant’s vehicles – in yet another confirmation of the basic principle that two solid objects cannot be in the same place at the same time – collided in the intersection of Adams and Tillary Streets in Brooklyn. Plaintiffs, who were traveling north on Adams, had the green light; defendant driver Fasano, who was traveling west on Tillary, had the red. “However, a City of New York traffic enforcement agent was in the intersection, directing traffic, and she had directed Fasano’s vehicle to proceed through the intersection although he had a red light.”

The court held that the traffic agent’s actions did not give rise to liability.

Under the doctrine of governmental function immunity, [g]overnment action, if discretionary, may not be a basis for liability, while ministerial actions may be, but only if they violate a special duty owed to the plaintiff, apart from any duty to the public in general.”

Defendants City and traffic agent “met their burden of establishing their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that the allegedly negligent acts of the defendant traffic enforcement agent were discretionary and not ministerial.” Since plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact in their opposition, defendants were entitled to summary judgment.

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