Liability Determined in New York Personal Injury Case Involving Freak ATV Accident
By Gerri Elder
Imagine this situation: An off-duty police officer is unknowingly driving on a closed yet unmarked state pathway when his ATV vehicle crashes into a metal pipe from a previous state project, causing the man to suffer a crushed spine which confines him to a wheelchair.
Who is at fault for the injury: the police officer who was technically not supposed to be on the road or the state which did not close off its path or remove the hazard it created?
A judge recently found New York state liable in this case, and the state quickly reached a $14.8 million settlement with the former police officer.
The settlement of this ATV accident is believed to be the all-time state record for a single person in a personal injury case.
ATV Accidents Can Lead to Life-Changing Injuries
After finishing his police shift in May 2002, Scott Brumber attempted to avoid traffic by driving his ATV vehicle down a sandy short-cut on the western end of Fire Island, which is located off Long Island's southern shore.
The vehicle snagged on a metal pipe sticking out of the sandy pathway, flipped in the air, landed on Brumber and crushed his spine. Brumber has been in a wheelchair since the recreational vehicle accident.
Brumber and his attorney filed a suit against the state for the damages he sustained in the ATV accident, and both sides quickly countered each other's claims.
The state argued that Brumber was responsible for his own injuries because he shouldn't have been driving on the path. Brumber's attorney Daniel Buttafuoco claimed that the state was still responsible for keeping the path clear of dangers even if it wasn't open to the public.
Buttafuoco then used aerial photographs and live testimony to successfully show that the pathway was commonly used for many years. In fact, the shortcut was commonly referred to as the "Coast Guard cut" since it was widely known that Coast Guard officials regularly used the pathway.
Brumber himself stated that he had no idea the pathway was off-limits since it was often used by state officials and there were no signs or barriers closing it off.
Buttafuoco showed that the state not only knew various state agencies used the path but also created the hazard. Witness testimony verified that the metal stake was leftover from a snow fence that was installed by the state prior to 2002 and not properly maintained.
Buttafuoco proved the state not only created and knew of the hazard but failed to remove it in a timely manner. The state's negligence was also evident in that the pathway was never closed and no signs were ever posted to mark it as being off-limits.
Judge James Lack agreed with Buttafuoco and found New York state 100% liable for Brumber's injuries.