Municipality Not Entitled To Qualified Immunity - Claim of Negligent Design of Intersection Traffic Control Devices Goes to Jury Trial
On August 11, 2021, the City of New Rochelle received a rude awakening from the Appellate Division, Second Department when their defense of qualified immunity arising out of a highway planning decision was rejected as baseless. The plaintiff was a pedestrian crossing the street in the crosswalk with the light in her favor when she was struck by a car making a left turn. There was a left turn lane but there was no left turn traffic signal to coordinate vehicle and pedestrian flow. The plaintiff claimed that her injuries were due to the failure to install a left turning lane traffic signal. The lower court found that the doctrine of Qualified Immunity was applicable and threw out the plaintiffs case. The appellate court reversed and will allow a jury to decide the issue.
Generally, municipalities enjoy the benefit of qualified immunity as an affirmative defense which protects them from lawsuits arising out of roadway accidents caused by negligent roadway or traffic signal designs. However, there is an exception or qualification negating immunity when the municipality's "study of a traffic condition is plainly inadequate, or there is no reasonable basis for its traffic plan". Qualified Immunity will only apply "where a duly authorized public planning body has entertained and passed on the very same question of risk as would ordinarily go to the jury". In this case, the City of New Rochelle had failed to submit any evidence that their design and "determination that no left-turn signal was warranted - was based on a study which entertained and passed on the very same question of risk that the plaintiff would put to a jury." Simply put, you can't claim immunity based on the exercise of well considered judgment when you didn't even consider the pros and cons of adding a left turn signal traffic. Rosado v City of New Rochelle, 2021 NY Slip Op 04675