An upstate appellate panel has upheld a $157,500 award to a woman who was hurt when a Syracuse police car responding to an emergency call struck her vehicle.
The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, on Thursday agreed with the trial court in Ruiz v. Cope, 547/14, that the officer, by driving through a red light, displayed a recklessness that supported a finding of liability.
But an unrelated case also decided Thursday involving another Syracuse police officer and another collision had a different outcome. In Williams v. Fassinger, 779/14, the court said the cop’s conduct did not rise to the level of reckless disregard because he briefly stopped at the intersection.
In Ruiz, records show, a police officer in field training and under the supervision of a sergeant received a “shots fired” radio call. The officer activated the vehicle’s sirens and lights but failed to come to a complete stop at James and Catherine streets on Nov. 12, 2006. He ran a red light and crashed into a vehicle driven by Chalina Ruiz, a 23-year-old Syracuse woman.
After a non-jury trial, Supreme Court Justice John Cherundolo (See Profile) found that the officer, Brendan Cope, acted with “utter and total disregard of the safety of others” by failing to come to a complete stop at the intersection, as required under departmental regulations.
On appeal, John Cirando of Syracuse, who represented the City of Syracuse, argued that Cope’s actions did not rise to the level of recklessness required under §1104 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. Cirando also argued that Ruiz did not suffer a “serious injury” as defined under the Insurance Law.
But the Fourth Department said the evidence at trial supported Cherundolo’s finding that Cope had “intentionally done an act of an unreasonable character in disregard” of a risk “that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow.” The court also said “objective evidence” of Ruiz’ injuries in the form of a chiropractic report and diagnostic tests established that she had suffered a serious injury.
Cirando said he is considering seeking leave to appeal. Eugene Lane, an associate in the Syracuse personal injury firm of Greene & Reid, represented the plaintiff. Lane was not immediately available for comment.
In Williams, Officer Charles Fassinger activated his lights and siren and stopped briefly at an intersection, checking both ways before proceeding, according to the decision. The plaintiff, April Williams, testified that there was a line of cars preparing to turn left, and that she veered around the other vehicles and entered the intersection where the collision occurred.
The Fourth Department unanimously held that Supreme Court Justice Hugh Gilbert should have granted the city’s motion for summary judgment.
“We … conclude that defendants established as a matter of law that defendant officer’s conduct did not rise to the level of reckless disregard for the safety of others,” the court said in a memorandum by justices Nancy Smith (See Profile), Fahey, Erin Peradotto (See Profile), Rose Sconiers (See Profile) and Valentino.
Lane also represented the plaintiff in the Williams case. Ann Alexander of the Syracuse city law department defended the municipality and the officer.