Legal Memorandum: Defective Condition of City's Roads

Issue: Under the laws of New York, how does an injured plaintiff demonstrate that city had a duty to protect travelers on a roadway from defective conditions where the city had responsibility for the maintenance of the road?

Area of Law: Municipal, County and Local Law, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: City's duty to protect travelers; Defective roads; Responsibility for maintenance of road
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 482 N.Y.S.2d 153; 137 A.D.2d 489; 184 A.D.2d 263; 593 N.Y.S.2d 286; 97 A.D.2d 871; 524 N.Y.S.2d 233; 585 N.Y.S.2d 201; 190 A.D.2d 663; 663 N.E.2d 321; 529 N.Y.S.2d 258; 177 A.D.2d 528; 575 N.Y.S.2d 917; 508 N.Y.S.2d 104; 639 N.Y.S.2d 1009; 145 A.D.2d 761; 469 N.Y.S.2d 273; 535 N.Y.S.2d 279
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 02/01/2001

If a county or municipality is to be held responsible for a hazard, it must be demonstrated that responsibility for the stretch of road where the accident occurred rested with that governmental unit.  In Burcroff v. County of Orleans, 114 Misc. 2d 16, 450 N.Y.S.2d 651 (Sup. Ct. Orleans County 1982), the plaintiff was injured when the vehicle she was driving went over an embankment at the road’s dead end.  The drop-off had not been marked, nor were any barriers erected to prevent vehicles from traveling beyond the paved stretch of road.  It was not disputed that the town superintendent had knowledge of this particular dangerous condition; however, the superintendent neither took action to repair the condition nor notified county officials of the problem.  Id., 450 N.Y.S.2d at 653.

The court concluded that the town did not have responsibility for safety on that road, as it had never assumed the responsibility for maintenance, construction or repair.  Id.  Under the established common law, “[a] town may not be held liable for damages arising out of the defective condition of a county road.”  Id. at 654.

[T]he town of Kendall did not have a duty to keep the road on which the accident occurred in a safe condition.  Furthermore, the town highway superintendent was not an agent of the county.  Thus, the “nonfeasance” of […]

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