Amabile et al. v. City of Buffalo, 1999 N.Y. Int. 0095 (June 8, 1999).

TORT LAW - MUNICIPALITIES - CONSTRUCTIVE NOTICE


ISSUE & DISPOSITION

Issue

Whether a statute requiring written notice to be given to a municipality before it is liable for injuries due to unrepaired sidewalks is subject to a constructive notice exception.

Disposition

No. Previous precedent does not establish a constructive notice exception, and the court should not interfere in a judgment of the legislature.

SUMMARY

Plaintiff Amabile tripped on a broken Buffalo sidewalk, injuring herself. A prior accident had caused the cracking and demolished a stop sign there. The City of Buffalo Charter requires that written notice of the defective sidewalk be provided to the city clerk before any injury action will lie. However, plaintiffs showed that the City had hired a worker to look for damaged stop signs and that he had driven past the location many times. Plaintiff argued that this functioned as constructive notice to the City.

At trial, the City moved to dismiss on the grounds that it had received no prior written notice. Supreme Court denied this motion, holding that constructive notice excused the lack of written notice. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that constructive notice was insufficient.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division, holding that constructive notice could not override the statutory requirement of written notice. The court found that it had not previously accepted constructive notice, distinguishing a previous case on the grounds that in that case the municipality in question had withdrawn reliance on the prior written notice law. Furthermore, such an implied exception would undermine legislative judgment.