By Vito A. Cannavo, Esq. – New York City Trial lawyer, Vito A. Cannavo, Esq.experienced in municipal and premise liability, educates on the issue of a jury’s determination as to whether a municipality is responsible for a negligent driver in car accident lawsuits. A victim can recover against a municipality for injuries sustained in an automobile collision if the negligent driver of the other vehicle was a municipal employee and not an independent contractor. A recent decision holds that it is up to a jury to determine, based on all of the surrounding circumstances, the employment status of a driver in a case like this.
In Santiago v. Spinuzza, 48 A.D.3d 1257 (4th Dept. 2008), the plaintiff was injured in a collision with an inspector for the City of Dunkirk. The City moved for summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint on the grounds that the driver was not a municipal employee and was merely an independent contractor. The trial court denied the motion, and the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed. In support of its decision, the Appellate Division pointed out that the driver was required to work a certain number of hours per day as specified by the City, that she began work each day at City Hall and reported back to a City official at the end of each day, that she had a work space within City Hall, and that she carried a City identification card with her signature on a line labeled “employee signature.” Based on these facts, the Appellate Division held that a jury should be allowed to decide, based on the specific circumstances surrounding the driver’s work with the City of Dunkirk, whether she was, in fact, a municipal employee.
As this case demonstrates, the specific facts of the individual case will determine whether a plaintiff can recover against a municipality after a collision. In New York, an attorney with experience handling cases arising from car accidents will know the importance of investigating such a case thoroughly and identifying all of the evidence available to establish that the negligent driver was a municipal employee.