Substantial Verdict Against the State of New York Finally Upheld in Fatal Car Crash Case


In October, in Scheuer v. State of New York, 2021 NY Slip Op 05906 (3d Dept 2021), the Appellate Division upheld a verdict totaling $2,343,662.63. The case arose from a car accident that occurred in 2005. Plaintiff Jeremy Killinger and Plaintiff Janet Croote’s deceased husband, James Croote, were passengers in a car driven by Defendant Kevin Miller. Mr. Miller lost control of his vehicle due to snow and ice on the road, crossed the center line, and collided with a snow plow on the opposite side. James Croote died on impact. At trial, the court found that Kevin Miller was 25% responsible for the crash, and the State of New York was 75% responsible, for failing to keep the road clear of snow and ice. 

On appeal, the State opposed the finding that they were 75% responsible for the crash. The State alleged that the ‘storm in progress doctrine’ made them not responsible for road conditions at the time of the accident. The storm in progress doctrine states that while the State has a non-delegable duty to maintain public roadways in a reasonably safe condition (which includes removing snow and ice), if a storm is ongoing, that duty is suspended until a reasonable time after the storm has ended. 

On appeal, the Third Department disagreed. The Court noted that, based on the record from the trial, many hours had passed between when the snow stopped and when the accident took place. Additionally, the Court observed that it was well-established that the State knew that already-cleared snow tended to blow back onto the road in the area where the crash occurred. Based primarily on these points, the Appellate Division upheld the lower court's judgments. 
 

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