Deputy Rear-end

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Q: I was traveling in the left lane.  I had stopped for a red traffic light and was beginning to move forward slowly, toward the congested intersection.  Just then, my car was rear-ended – by a road-patrol deputy in the county sheriff’s office.

The deputy was traveling to provide backup for another officer who was responding to a burglary alarm.  The deputy was not familiar with the location of this burglary alarm.  Because of the large amount of traffic, and not being certain where he was going, the deputy had decided not to activate his emergency lights or siren.

To deal with the deputy’s uncertainty, the dispatcher had transmitted the names of cross streets, to a mobile data terminal inside the vehicle.  The deputy had been looking down at the terminal’s display.  When the deputy lifted his gaze, he realized that traffic had slowed, but lacked time to apply his brakes.

A: Section 1104 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law involves addresses ‘emergency vehicles’.  The driver of such a vehicle may (1) stop, stand or park irrespective of other provisions of the law, (2) proceed past a steady red signal, although only after slowing down as much as may be necessary, (3) exceed the maximum speed limits, so long as he does not endanger life or property and (4) disregard regulations governing directions of movement or turning in specified directions.  In any event, he may not engage in ‘reckless disregard’ for the safety of others.

In effect, the statute exempts a de whose operation falls within the four categories from the consequences of his ordinary negligence – rendering him liable only for conduct constituting the higher standard of ‘reckless disregard’.  Had the Legislature intended ‘reckless disregard’ to be the standard without limitation to the four categories, the statute would have been drafted differently.  To the extent that the deputy was engaged in normal driving, i.e. outside the four categories, the Legislature did not see fit to excuse him from normal standards of negligence.

Even assuming that this deputy was involved in an emergency operation at the time of the accident, it does not appear that his conduct fell within any of the four categories.  While traveling in a normal stream of traffic, driving well within the speed limit and in the proper lane of the roadway, the deputy did something (looking down at his terminal) that simply is not specified in the statute.  Thus, the exemption from liability for ordinary negligence never became applicable.  If you can establish that the deputy was negligent, in an ordinary sense, then you will prevail.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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