Can Liability Be Imposed on the State Where Injuries Are Caused by Structural Defects on Highways ?
In Hinds v. State of New York, motorists were injured when their car skidded because of a differential in height between a roadway's brick center strip and concrete side strips, a condition that, it was held, did not result from official misfeasance or negligence.
Because the accident occurred on November 16th, liability could not be imposed pursuant to the Highway Law provision and, consequently, the claim was dismissed.
This result was later roundly criticized in Pierce vState of New York (41 N.Y.S.2d 602), in which the State was held liable for a similar long-standing structural defect, even though the accident occurred in March and thus there could be no liability pursuant to Highway Law 58:
We feel that the Hinds case is no longer good authority in light of more recent decisions relating to claims arising outside of the patrol period.
The Courts are now taking a broader view, and impose liability where structural defects, known to its officers and employees, are involved, on the theory that it is the duty of the State to maintain the highways in a reasonably safe condition for travel at all times of the year. (id. at 604)
This "broader view" is exemplified in the many subsequent cases in which liability is imposed on the State for injuries caused by a highway defect, one not necessarily caused by negligence, as long as the State had notice and a reasonable time in which to remedy the situation or at least provide warning of the danger.
Karl v. State of New York, 279 NY 555, 18 N.E.2d 852;
Doulin v. State of New York, 277 NY 558, 13 N.E.2d 472;
Juliano v. State of New York, 273 App Div 936, 77 N.Y.S.2d 826, aff'g 190 Misc 180;
Torrey v. State of New York, 266 App Div 900, 901, 42 N.Y.S.2d 567;
Sutherland v. State of New York, 189 Misc 953, 68 N.Y.S.2d 553;
Dawley v. State of New York, 186 Misc 571, 61 N.Y.S.2d 59;
Wasnick v. Slate of Neiv York, 183 Misc 1073, 52 N.Y.S.2d 32;
Ryan v. State of New York. 180 Misc 370, 43 N.Y.S.2d 181;
Dunn v. State of New York, 52 N.Y.S.2d 128).
In each of these cases, for one reason or another, liability could not have been imposed under the Highway Law provision, but the existence of a defect and evidence of prior notice was held to be sufficient for the imposition of liability under the Court of Claims Act.
Of course, liability may also result from the State's more active negligence, irrespective of whether recovery would be prohibited by Highway Law 58 (see. e.g., Logan v. State of New York, 254 App Div 410, 5 N.Y.S.2d 908 [negligent design]).