NYPD Traffic Officer Traffic Owed No Special Duty to Plaintiff Struck by Taxi
On November 1, 2012, an NYPD traffic officer was directing traffic at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and East 10th Street in Manhattan, New York, after the traffic lights were non-operational due to Hurricane Sandy. As the officer was manually directing traffic, a collision occurred at the intersection between a motorcycle driven by the Plaintiff and a taxi. Subsequently, in Mendez v. City of New York the Plaintiff sued the City of New York, the New York City Police Department, the officer who was directing traffic (collectively “City”), as well as the owner and the operator of the Taxi (collectively “Taxi”) that struck him.
The City moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that under the public duty rule, the performance of governmental functions could not rise to liability unless the Plaintiff pleaded and established the existence of a special duty. Further arguing, even if Plaintiff did prove the City owed him a special duty, NYC was entitled to summary judgment based on a governmental immunity defense. The Taxi co-defendants filed a cross-motion seeking summary judgment in their favor, arguing that the Taxi entered the intersection following the traffic officer’s directions when the Plaintiff struck their car.
In opposition, Plaintiff argued he claimed special duty and that a special duty existed. Plaintiff also argued that the traffic officer is not entitled to governmental immunity because the actions challenged were routine and not discretionary. Regarding the Taxi’s cross-motion, Plaintiff asserted that a question of fact remains as to who had the right of way, thus making summary judgment inappropriate.
Judge J. Machelle Sweeting agreed with the Plaintiff’s argument as to the Taxi’s cross-motion. The Plaintiff and Taxi’s conflicting testimonies make it evident that a triable issue remained, and Taxi’s cross-motion was denied. However, based on the public duty rule, the Court granted the City’s motion and dismissed the complaint against the City of New York, NYPD, and the traffic officer.
The public duty rule is a doctrine in tort law that states a government entity (as a state or municipality) cannot be held liable for the injuries of an individual resulting from a public officer’s or employee’s breach of a duty to the public as a whole distinguished from a duty owed to a particular individual. The public duty rule circumscribes the government’s duty of care to a foreseeable class of persons to ensure that the government does not become an insurer against harm suffered by its citizenry at the hands of third parties.
In the instant case, Judge Sweeting found the traffic officer was performing a government function for which he had discretion (directing traffic) and was conducting a general duty to the public as a whole. Therefore, the City owed no special duty to the Plaintiff.
Thanks to Irving Fayman for his contribution to this post. Should you have any questions, please contact Tom Bracken.