The New York Daily News recently reported that the city paid a $1.5 million settlement to a pedestrian who had been struck by a vehicle after a traffic signal allegedly changed too soon. At the time of the 2008 accident, the plaintiff, Joseph Mare, had been a senior at C.W. Post and a promising baseball player who had reportedly drawn interest from Major League teams. The accident resulted in a severe head injury and two broken ankles, requiring twenty surgical procedures. According to his attorney, Mr. Mare made an “incredible recovery,” but “could not play baseball at the same level again.”
Under the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the signal regulating the intersection in question should have provided a pedestrian 27.5 seconds to make the crossing. An expert for the plaintiff who timed the interval reported that the traffic signal had turned to “Don’t Walk” after only 15 seconds. This, according to lawyers for Mr. Mare, would have put the plaintiff at “extreme risk.”
Lawyers for the city asserted that the signal was not defective and moved for dismissal of the suit. However, the trial judge refused because the city could not present any record of traffic safety studies for the intersection. In light of the court’s ruling and the severity of Mr. Mare’s injuries, the city’s lawyers decided it was in the city’s best interest to settle. Mr. Mare also received $100,000 from the insurance company of the driver who struck him.
The city has a duty to regulate traffic in a manner that is reasonably safe. Signals at intersections must meet safety standards and provide adequate time for crossing as well as adequate warning. An intersection with an unusually short crossing interval that changes abruptly is a recipe for disaster. It is not surprising that in the 10 years prior to Mr. Mare’s accident, there were 27 traffic accidents in the vicinity.
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