Everyone is responsible for road safety. For drivers, that includes respecting road signals and speed limits. For the state, it includes keeping roadways safe. When a crash occurs, usually one of the two driving parties is to blame. Sometimes, however, both parties do everything right, and an accident still occurs. In New York, a ruling recently held the state responsible for a fatal crash.
In 2003, Wayne and Linda Brown were riding their motorcycle on Route 350. As the same time they approached an intersection, Henry Friend, who had been stopped at a stop sign on another road, entered the intersection, believing that the coast was clear. It was not. The Browns crashed into Mr. Friend’s car; Wayne Brown died, and Linda Brown suffered critical injuries.
In this instance, no one was to blame—the Browns were traveling at the posted 55 MPH speed, and Mr. Friend responsibly pulled into the intersection. The problem was that the intersection had been flagged as hazardous four years prior, and no action was taken. The city of Ontario where the intersection is located requested a flashing caution light be installed at the intersection after fourteen crashes similar to the Brown-Friend crash had been reported between 1995 and 1999.
Twelve years after the accident, the Court of Claims made the state responsible for the crash and awarded Mrs. Brown and her two children over $3.9 million in compensation; the state appealed the ruling and was denied. On June 7, 2018, the Court of Appeals upheld the Court of Claims’ ruling and maintained that the state was responsible for the unsafe layout of the intersection.
The intersection is now properly framed by a four-way stop.