senate Bill S4417

2011-2012 Legislative Session

Provides that no cause of action may be brought for damages as a result of the operation of an emergency vehicle when the operator was engaged in emergency operation

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Archive: Last Bill Status - In Committee


  • Introduced
  • In Committee
  • On Floor Calendar
    • Passed Senate
    • Passed Assembly
  • Delivered to Governor
  • Signed/Vetoed by Governor

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Actions

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Assembly Actions - Lowercase
Senate Actions - UPPERCASE
Mar 13, 2012 reported and committed to finance
Jan 04, 2012 referred to transportation
Jun 15, 2011 committee discharged and committed to rules
Apr 04, 2011 referred to transportation

Votes

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Mar 13, 2012 - Transportation committee Vote

S4417
16
0
committee
16
Aye
0
Nay
3
Aye with Reservations
0
Absent
0
Excused
0
Abstained
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Co-Sponsors

S4417 - Bill Details

Current Committee:
Senate Finance
Law Section:
Vehicle and Traffic Law
Laws Affected:
Amd §1104, V & T L

S4417 - Bill Texts

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Provides that no cause of action may be brought for damages as a result of the operation of an emergency vehicle when the operator was engaged in emergency operation.

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BILL NUMBER:S4417

TITLE OF BILL:

An act
to amend the vehicle and traffic law, in
relation to the operation of authorized
emergency vehicles

PURPOSE OF BILL:

This bill would overturn the Court of Appeals' recent holding in
Kabir v. County of Monroe,__ N.Y.3d__ (February 17, 2011), in which the
Court interpreted Vehicle and Traffic
Law (VTL) § 1104(e) in a manner that reduces the protections for
emergency vehicle operators engaged in emergency operations from
certain lawsuits brought as a result of accidents involving their
vehicles.

SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS:

Section 1 of the bill would amend VTL § 1104(e) to clarify that the
actions of an emergency vehicle operator who is involved in an
accident during an emergency operation is to be judged by the
standard of recklessness.

Section 2 of the bill would provide for an immediate effective date.

EXISTING LAW:

VTL § 1104(b) exempts drivers of authorized emergency vehicles from
prosecution for certain violations, including stopping, standing or
parking in prohibited places, passing through stop signs or signals,
exceeding the speed limit and disregarding turning restrictions. VTL
§ 1104(e) provides that the "foregoing provisions shall not relieve
the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive
with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall such
provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his reckless
disregard for the safety of others." Until the Court's four-to-three
decision in Kabir, many believed that VTL § 1104(e) required all of
the actions of an officer t;:ngaged in an emergency operation to be
judged by a standard of recklessness, and not just those actions set
forth in subdivision (b).

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY:

This is a new bill.

STATEMENT IN SUPPORT:

In Kabir, a deputy sheriff responding to a burglary call momentarily
looked down to check location. He could have just as easily been
reaching for a microphone or checking his
radar display. He was not exceeding the speed limit, but there was
some traffic, and he struck the car in front of him. The trial court
applied an ordinary negligence standard to his conduct,


notwithstanding that the driver was operating an emergency vehicle
pursuing a suspect, and on that basis the deputy sheriff was found
liable.

In response to Kabir's appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the
reckless disregard standard of care in VTL § 1104(e) applies only
"when a driver of an authorized emergency vehicle involved in an
emergency operation engages in the specific conduct exempted from the
rules of the road by Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104(b)." According
to the majority, if the driver is not violating these limited
provisions, liability may be based simply on ordinary negligence even
though the public servant was acting in an emergency. The three
dissenting judges, in contrast, found that exempting the operation of
a vehicle by a public servant responding to an emergency from simple
negligence is the clear intent of the statute, and encouraged the
Legislature to consider revision in order to "clarify its intent."
Unless this holding is addressed with legislation clarifying the
intent of the law, it will hamper police operations in emergency
situations, negatively impact the ability of the law enforcement
agencies to defend hundreds of traffic accident cases, and impose
significant additional litigation costs on already tremendously
burdened state and local governments.

Until the Court's February 17, 2011 decision in Kabir, it had widely
been assumed that VTL § 1104 applied a reckless disregard standard in
all collision cases where a police officer was in emergency status.
The majority in Kabir, however, rejected this approach and relied on
a technical interpretation of section 1104, one yielding incongruous
results. The Court held that the reckless disregard standard only
applies to four types of conduct that section 1104(b) specifically
permits: illegally stopping; driving through a stop signal; exceeding
the maximum speed limits;
and disregarding rules regarding directions of movement or turning.

The law enforcement officer in Kabir was not speeding or engaging in
conduct that would otherwise have violated a specified provision of
the Vehicle and Traffic Law. Therefore, the Court held, he could be
found liable for mere negligence even though he was responding to a
burglary at the time of the accident.

As noted by the dissenting judges, the Court's holding will lead to
case dispositions that contradict the original intent of the statute
as well as common sense. Ultimately, this decision could lead to the
anomalous result that an officer who obeys the traffic laws listed in
section 1104(b) would be held to a negligence standard, but an
officer who violates those laws would be subject to a standard of
recklessness. For example: a police officer traveling on an
expressway is alerted by radio to the location of a fleeing armed
robber. The highway is busy. The speed limit is 55 mph. The officer
observes a driver meeting the description of the robber and initiates
a pursuit. The officer engages in conducted that would negligence,
such weaving, but drives within the speed limit. Nevertheless, with
his attention focused on the suspect vehicle, he collides with an
innocent third party and is sued personally in Supreme Court. Under
the Kabir decision, he is liable even though he was not reckless.


By contrast, if the same police officer, under the exact same
circumstances, were driving in excess of the speed limit and the rest
of the facts remained the same, he would not be liable
under the Court's decision because by violating a specified provision
of the VTL (speeding) he earns the protections of the recklessness
standard. In other words, by acting with a greater disregard for
public safety, the public servant earns more protection from lawsuits.
This result is incongruous. It encourages public servants responding
to emergencies to act with lesser care and to violate the VTL
whenever engaged in an emergency operation.

In addition, after Kabir, drivers of work vehicles have broader
protection than operators of emergency vehicles. Under section VTL
§ 1103(b), the reckless disregard standard applies more broadly to
drivers of vehicles engaged in work on a highway. Police officers and
other emergency workers should not be afforded less protection than
those performing work on a highway.

Finally, state and local governments will incur far greater costs in
settling and defending traffic accident cases if Kabir is not
overturned, as they will pay additional verdicts under the lower
standard of care that will now be applied. When a police officer is
involved in an emergency operation, he or she should not be liable
for damages caused by a mere error in judgment while making
split-second decisions under already stressful circumstances. This
bill would correct these anomalies, and protect operators of
emergency vehicles from unwarranted liability.

BUDGET IMPLICATIONS:

Failure to enact this legislation would likely cost the State and
local governments with police departments large sums of money due to
an increase in lawsuits for simple negligence brought as a result of
car accidents involving their police officers and other emergency
vehicle drivers.

EFFECTIVE DATE:

This bill would take effect immediately.

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                    S T A T E   O F   N E W   Y O R K
________________________________________________________________________

                                  4417

                       2011-2012 Regular Sessions

                            I N  S E N A T E

                              April 4, 2011
                               ___________

Introduced  by  Sen.  MARTINS  --  (at  request of the Division of State
  Police) -- read twice and ordered printed,  and  when  printed  to  be
  committed to the Committee on Transportation

AN  ACT  to amend the vehicle and traffic law, in relation to the opera-
  tion of authorized emergency vehicles

  THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, REPRESENTED IN SENATE AND  ASSEM-
BLY, DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

  Section  1. Subdivision (e) of section 1104 of the vehicle and traffic
law, as relettered by chapter 336 of the laws of  1968,  is  amended  to
read as follows:
  (e)  [The  foregoing  provisions  shall  not  relieve the driver of an
authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard  for
the  safety of all persons, nor shall such provisions protect the driver
from the consequences of  his  reckless  disregard  for  the  safety  of
others]  IN  ADDITION  TO  THE IMMUNITY FROM PROSECUTION PROVIDED FOR IN
SUBDIVISION (B) OF THIS SECTION, NO CAUSE OF ACTION MAY BE  BROUGHT  FOR
DAMAGES  AS  A  RESULT OF THE OPERATION OF AN EMERGENCY VEHICLE WHEN THE
OPERATOR OF SUCH VEHICLE WAS ENGAGED IN EMERGENCY OPERATION AT THE TIME,
PROVIDED THAT THE OPERATOR WHO WAS ENGAGED IN SUCH  EMERGENCY  OPERATION
WAS NOT ACTING WITH RECKLESS DISREGARD FOR THE SAFETY OF OTHERS.
  S 2. This act shall take effect immediately.




 EXPLANATION--Matter in ITALICS (underscored) is new; matter in brackets
                      [ ] is old law to be omitted.
                                                           LBD09797-01-1

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