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New York State’s failure to provide adequate traffic control at a Long Island intersection exposes it to liability for a tragic accident, even though the crash never would have occurred had one driver not been speeding, a New York Court of Claims judge has held. In D’Amato v. State, 98620, Judge Ferris D. Lebous of Binghamton found that the accident giving rise to the action resulted only because a motorist was traveling at twice the legal speed limit. Still, he said the state bears a share of the liability because it neglected to properly control the intersection with traffic lights. The case arises from an accident on Aug. 26, 1996, at the intersection of State Route 110 and Broadway in Huntington, Suffolk County. Susan D’Amato was attempting to turn left onto Broadway and was invited to do so by a green left-turn arrow. After starting the turn, D’Amato encountered a pedestrian and yielded the right-of-way, which exposed her to an oncoming BMW convertible operated by Jacob A. Giannelli. Giannelli, traveling at more than 60 m.p.h. in a 30 m.p.h. zone, struck D’Amato’s vehicle. D’Amato was severely injured. Judge Lebous found that the state created a dangerous condition by neglecting to install a “fully protected” left-turn arrow and a lighting scheme that would have stopped both oncoming traffic and pedestrian traffic when a turn was being executed. The Department of Transportation had previously reviewed the traffic control scheme at the intersection and had noted a high incidence of accidents at that location, the court found. However, even after finding that the state had both actual and constructive notice, Lebous observed that D’Amato still shouldered the burden of proving that the condition was a substantial cause of her injuries. Lebous found that if the Giannelli vehicle had been traveling at a prudent speed, the driver would have been able to stop short of impact or maneuver around D’Amato’s vehicle. He also found that D’Amato, having lived in the vicinity of the accident for approximately 30 years, was well aware of the shortcomings of the traffic control devices. The judge found that she could have positioned her vehicle in a way that would have kept her out of harm’s way, and the failure to do so “constituted a tragic error on her part.” Regardless, Lebous held that the state’s “conduct and inaction was a substantial factor contributing to this accident.” He said a better designed traffic control system would have reduced the risk of an accident, and held the state liable for 20 percent of an award that is yet to be determined. D’Amato’s negligence was also assessed at 20 percent, with Giannelli held to 40 percent liability. The case was argued by Donald L. Citak, of Citak & Citak in Manhattan, for D’Amato. The state was defended by Assistant Attorney General Denis J. McElligott.

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