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VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW - HIGHWAY MAINTENANCE VEHICLES - STANDARD OF CARE - TORTS AND PERSONAL INJURY - RECKLESSNESS STANDARD


ISSUE & DISPOSITION

Issue(s)

1. Whether Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1103(b) exempts statutorily-defined "hazard vehicles" like street sweepers and snowplows from standard traffic regulations set forth in Title VII of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.

2. Whether Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1103(b) limits the liability of the owners and operators of "hazard vehicles" to the lesser recklessness standard.

Disposition

1. Yes. The plain language of the statute and the legislative history of § 1103(b) indicate that § 1103(b) exempts all vehicles engaged in highway construction, maintenance, or repair from the rules of the road.

2. Yes. A 1974 Amendment imposes a recklessness standard of care on vehicles engaged in work on a highway.

SUMMARY

The Court's ruling combined two cases that addressed the scope of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1103(b). That statute section exempts vehicles engaged in work on a highway from the standard rules of the road. In Riley, the Plaintiff collided with a street sweeper traveling at two or three miles per hour while straddling the shoulder and the road. In Wilson v. State of New York, the Plaintiff collided with a state-owned and operated snowplow at an intersection during a moderate snowstorm. Plaintiffs in both cases alleged that while § 1103(b) exempts vehicles engaged in road work from the rules of the road, this exemption does not apply to "hazard vehicles" such as snowplows and street sweepers. Plaintiffs argued that § 1103(b) only exempts "hazard vehicles" from the stopping, standing, and parking regulations of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1202(a). The trial courts found for the Defendants in both cases, concluding that the street sweeper and the snowplow were engaged in work on a highway within the meaning of § 1103(b) and that neither vehicle operator acted recklessly.

On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial courts' rulings. The Appellate Division held § 1103(b) exempted all vehicles engaged in road work from the rules of the road and subjected such vehicles to a minimal recklessness standard.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the vehicles involved were working on a highway and thus fell within the scope of § 1103(b). The Court rejected the Plaintiffs' contention that "hazard vehicles" should be denied the special protection of § 1103(b), citing the plain language of the statute and the legislative history of § 1103(b). Section 1103(b)'s legislative history indicated an intent to create a broad exemption for all vehicles engaged in highway construction, maintenance, or repair from the rules of the road. Thus, the Court found that the applicability of the § 1103(b) exemption to vehicles turns not on the nature of the vehicle performing the work, but rather on the nature of the work performed. Additionally, the Court concluded that a 1974 amendment to § 1103(b) verifies the intent of the Legislature to hold vehicles engaged in work on a highway to a recklessness standard. Under a recklessness standard, liability is imposed only when a plaintiff can establish that the operator acted with a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Thus, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the trial courts and the Appellate Division.


Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.