On June 7, 2018, New York's highest appellate court clarified a longstanding rule regarding the liability of a municipality for failing to promptly install a recommended four-way stop sign at an intersection in the Town of Ontario. A motorcyclist with the right of way traveling north on Route 350 collided with a pick-up truck that had stopped at a stop sign before making a right turn from a side street into the intersection of Route 350. There had been 14 similar right-angle collisions at the same intersection which prompted a traffic safety study begun four years earlier, but the four way stop sign was never installed.
The 43 year old motorcyclist was killed leaving behind a boy age 15 and a daughter age 10. The motorcyclist's wife/passenger, was severely injured with permanent disabling injuries. The family was awarded over $7,000,000 but the trial Judge dismissed the claims holding that there was no proof that a four-way stop sign would have prevented the accident. The Court of Appeals disagreed and explained: “We have never required accident victim's to identify a specific remedy and prove it would have been timely implemented and prevented the accident...it was the State's burden to take reasonable steps in a reasonable amount of time. Instead, it did nothing.”
As a general rule a municipality has a qualified immunity from any claims involving the design of a roadway. However, a municipality has a duty to keep its roads reasonably safe and when it “is made aware of a dangerous condition and does not take action to remedy it”, the State may not invoke the qualified immunity doctrine.