Eighteen year old girl knocks speeding cyclists over to protect children; Sudden Emergency Doctrine stops suit

Pavane v. Marte, 37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U

Cyclists deserved it to.

This is a lawsuit over an injury a cyclist received when he crashed in New York City. He crashed because an eighteen year old summer enrichment program counselor shoved him over with her “Stop Children Crossing” sign when he failed to stop at a light.

A summer enrichment program is a day camp for kids when parents have to work. The kids are taken on tours, programs, exercise and many involve a lot of outdoor recreation. In this case, the kids with two counselors were walking to a swimming pool. The program was run by the defendant Oasis Children’s Services.

While crossing a street only half the students made it across the street before the light changed. The defendant counselor kept her students back until the light changed again. She then proceeded out to the middle of traffic and held up a sign which said Stop Children Crossing. As the students started to cross she noticed a group of cyclists coming towards the crosswalk. All but one of the cyclists stopped. The one who did not stop was the defendant.

As per the protocol of the program, the counselor was supposed to yell at cyclists who look like they are not going to stop. If the cyclists do not stop a counselor it to put their body between the bicycle and the kids. (That is asking a lot of an 18-year-old kid!)

The light was red; the cyclist was not stopping so the counselor put her body between the kids and the cyclists. The cyclists still did not stop. The counselor waived her sign and yelled at the cyclists. At the last moment, she jumped out of the way, and she pushed the cyclists arm with her sign.

He crashed!

The cyclists sued for negligence that he crashed because a girl pushed him with a sign. The defendants raised the defense of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine.

Summary of the case

The sudden emergency doctrine has many different names and variations across the US. You should check your state to determine if it is available as a defense how the defense is defined. Do not rely on the sudden emergency doctrine to save you, it rarely does.

In New York, the Sudden Emergency Doctrine is defined as:

A common law emergency doctrine is recognized in New York and it applies “when an actor is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance that leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration, or causes the actor to be reasonably so disturbed that the actor must make a speedy decision without weighing alternative courses of conduct. The actor may not be negligent if the actions taken are reasonable and prudent in the emergency context”.

Basically, it says you can be negligent for the greater good. If your negligence is less than the damage or problem that not being negligent will create, then the Sudden Emergency Doctrine provides you a defense to a negligence claim.

In this case, the court found the actions of the defendant counselor in pushing the cyclists saved the children. “The evidence is credible that Marte [Defendant] pushed Pavane [Plaintiff] from his bicycle in order to prevent children from getting injured.”

Application of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine is a balancing test to some extent. The harm created by the negligent act is less than the harm that would have occurred if the defendant had not acted. 99% of the time only a jury will make the decision, whether your actions where worth it.

As a further little hit, the court held “It is the finding of this Court that Mr. Pavane’s own failure to stop at the red light and yield to children crossing the street was the sole proximate cause of the incident.”

So Now What?

The sad thing is the program had so much experience with cyclist’s running lights; they had developed a program to deal with it.

Cyclists of New York, you should be embarrassed!

The classic case of where the Sudden Emergency Doctrine would work is portrayed in “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson.

Do not rely on the sudden emergency doctrine as a defense in your program or activity.

 

Plaintiff: Martin Pavane and Merrill Pavane

 

Defendant: Samidra Marte, Oasis Community Corporation and Oasis Children’s Services

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: Sudden Emergency Doctrine

 

Holding: For the Defendant

 

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Pavane v. Marte, 37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U

Pavane v. Marte, 37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U

Martin Pavane and Merrill Pavane, Plaintiff(s), against Samidra Marte, Oasis Community Corporation and Oasis Children’s Services, Defendant(s).

33473/08

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, KINGS COUNTY

37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U

August 9, 2012, Decided

NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.

CORE TERMS: summary judgment, bicycle, street, crossing, counselor, emergency, crosswalk, walk, emergency doctrine, triable issues of fact, stop sign, deposition, cyclist, annexed, proximate cause, red light, matter of law, emergency situation, party opposing, affirmative defense, traffic light, reasonableness, deliberation, speculative, unexpected, proceeded, favorable, surprise, sudden, pushed

HEADNOTES

[*1216A] Negligence–Emergency Doctrine.

JUDGES: [**1] Hon. Bernard J. Graham, Acting Justice.

OPINION BY: Bernard J. Graham

OPINION

Bernard J. Graham, J.

Decision:

The captioned lawsuit was commenced by filing of a summons and complaint on or about December 8, 2008, by plaintiffs, Martin Pavane and Merrill Pavane, against defendants Samira Marte (incorrectly identified as “Samidra Marte”), Oasis Community Corporation, and Oasis Children’s Services, LLC. Plaintiffs’ claim is a negligence action against defendants stemming from a fall at Central Park and a derivative claim on behalf of plaintiff, Merrill Pavane.

Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR § 3212 for dismissal of the plaintiffs’ complaint alleging that there are no triable issues of fact and that defendants are free from liability pursuant to the Emergency Doctrine’.

Background

Defendant Oasis Children’s Services, LLC (“Oasis”) is a company that runs summer enrichment programs for at-risk children in the tri-state area. They have several camp locations in New York City, including one in Central Park.

Defendant Oasis Community Corporation is a named defendant which is ostensibly related to Oasis Children’s Services, LLC.

During the summer of 2008, Oasis hired 18-year-old defendant Samira Marte [**2] (“Marte”) as a camp counselor. On August 22, 2008, Marte and another counselor, Rachel Carrion (“Carrion”), entered Central Park at 96th Street with their campers to reach a swimming pool at 110th Street. Their route required them to cross West Drive.

According to the deposition testimony of Ms. Marte, Rachel Carrion and several children crossed West Drive first. The walk signal changed to “do not walk” before Ms. Marte was able to cross with the rest of the group, so she stayed on the sidewalk with the children to wait for the light to change again. When the signal changed to “walk”, Ms. Marte followed camp guidelines and proceeded to the middle of the crosswalk to hold up her “stop/children crossing” sign. According to the deposition of Richard Thompson McKay, who is an Oasis supervisor and not a named party to the action, Oasis provided protocol training for all camp counselors on how to cross the street. Counselors are instructed to stand in the middle of the street with the stop sign before children may begin to pass. Counselors were also told that if it appears that a cyclist will not stop, then the counselors must first be “loud and verbal” and ask the cyclist to stop. If the [**3] cyclist still does not stop, then counselors must “put [their] body as best as [they] can in between bicyclist and the children that [they] have to protect.” (See Dep. of Richard Thompson McKay, pg. 11-12, annexed as Ex. “H” to the Aff. of Rodney E. Gould in support of motion for summary judgment).

Ms. Marte states that several bicyclists were traveling down West Drive and that all of them stopped for the red light except for “one person that kept going.” (See Dep. of Samira Marte, pg. 60-61, 73-74, annexed as Ex. “F” to the Aff. of Rodney E. Gould in support of motion for summary judgment). Ms. Marte observed the defendant, Martin Pavane (“Pavane”), approaching the red light on his bicycle and alleges that Mr. Pavane did not slow down. Since children were beginning to cross the street, Ms. Marte anticipated that the bicycle would collide with the crossing children and herself. In order to get Mr. Pavane to stop, Ms. Marte first waived her stop sign and yelled for him to stop. When the bicycle still did not stop or slow down, she tried to put herself in between the bicycle and the children by standing in front of the bicycle’s [***2] path. However, Ms. Marte was forced to move aside because [**4] she states that the bicycle was going too fast. She was afraid that the bicycle would run right into her and the children. Ms. Marte states that was the moment she decided to push Mr. Pavane’s arm with the stop sign (Marte Dep. pg. 74-77).

Discussion

In opposition to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs argue that the defendants failed to include the Emergency Doctrine’ as an affirmative defense in their answer.

However, where the party opposing summary judgment has knowledge of the facts relating to the existence of an emergency and would not be taken by surprise with the use of the emergency defense, the doctrine does not have to be pleaded as an affirmative defense (see Bello v. Transit Auth. of NY City, 12 AD3d 58, 61, 783 N.Y.S.2d 648 (2nd Dept. 2004)). Here, plaintiffs cannot claim that they were taken by surprise by defendants’ emergency defense. The depositions provide full descriptions of facts describing an emergency situation.

A common law emergency doctrine is recognized in New York and it applies “when an actor is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance that leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration, or causes the actor to be reasonably so [**5] disturbed that the actor must make a speedy decision without weighing alternative courses of conduct. [The] actor may not be negligent if the actions taken are reasonable and prudent in the emergency context”. (Caristo v. Sanzone, 96 NY2d 172, 174, 750 N.E.2d 36, 726 N.Y.S.2d 334 (2001) (citing Rivera v. New York City Tr. Auth., 77 NY2d 322, 327, 569 N.E.2d 432, 567 N.Y.S.2d 629 (1991); see also Marks v. Robb, 90 AD3d 863, 935 N.Y.S.2d 593 (2nd Dept. 2011)). The depositions show that Marte was confronted with a sudden and unexpected emergency circumstance that left her with little time for deliberation. The evidence is credible that Marte pushed Pavane from his bicycle in order to prevent children from getting injured.

Ordinarily, the reasonableness of a party’s response to an emergency situation will present questions of fact for a jury, but it may be determined as a matter of law in appropriate circumstances (Bello v. Transit Auth. of NY City, 12 AD3d at 60; see also Koenig v. Lee, 53 AD3d 567, 862 N.Y.S.2d 373 (2nd Dept. 2008); Vitale v. Levine, 44 AD3d 935, 844 N.Y.S.2d 105 (2nd Dept. 2007)).

In this case, defendants seek an award of summary judgment dismissing the plaintiffs’ claim which would require a determination by this Court that, as a matter of law, the actions taken by Ms. Marte were reasonable [**6] and did not present a question which should be presented to a jury. Although summary judgment is a drastic remedy, a court may grant summary judgment when the moving party establishes that there are no triable issues of material fact (see Rotuba Extruders v. Ceppos, 46 NY2d 223, 385 N.E.2d 1068, 413 N.Y.S.2d 141 (1978); Sillman v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395, 144 N.E.2d 387, 165 N.Y.S.2d 498 (1957)).

Rachel Carrion, the co-counselor who is not a named party to the action, testified that she saw Pavane ride his bicycle towards the crosswalk where herself and Marte were crossing the street with children from the Oasis summer camp (see Carrion Dep. pg. 8-9 annexed to Gould [***3] Aff. in support of motion for summary judgment). Carrion testified that Pavane was approaching them “at [a] speed” and “would not stop” (Carrion Dep. pg. 10). The testimony of Ms. Carrion is completely consistent and corroborative of Ms. Marte’s testimony. Ms. Marte stated that Mr. Pavane was not going to stop and was about to hit the four children who were crossing in the crosswalk (Marte Dep. pg 61).

The majority of Pavane’s testimony consists of mere speculative and conclusory assertions because he claims to not recall most details. For example, Pavane did not recall [**7] whether he saw children on the street (see Pavane Dep. pg. 17, annexed to the Aff of Leon Sager in opposition to the motion for summary judgment), but states that “it’s certainly possible there were people there.” (Pavane Dep. pg. 17). Carrion testified that there definitely were children on both sides of the crosswalk and some crossing in the middle before Marte pushed Pavane off his bicycle (Carrion Dep. pg. 11). Pavane also does not recall whether Marte was holding a “stop, children crossing” sign or whether she was waving at him, but he does remember Marte being a young woman in her teens (Pavane Dep. Pg. 17), who was “doing something with her hands at the particular time when she stepped in front of [him]” (Pavane Dep. pg. 18).

In reviewing the offered testimony in support of the motion and the opposition to the motion, the evidence submitted must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion (see Branham v. Loews Orpheum Cinemas, Inc., 8 NY3d 931, 866 N.E.2d 448, 834 N.Y.S.2d 503 (2007)). Even assessing the available evidence in a light most favorable to Mr. Pavane, a neutral reading of the evidence would support a conclusion that Ms. Marte and the children were crossing the street with [**8] the “walk” sign in their favor; that Ms. Marte was positioned with her stop sign at the cross walk; and that Mr. Pavane was cycling into the crosswalk against the traffic light.

While this Court is hesitant to declare the actions of any party in an alleged tort claim to be reasonable as a matter of law, in certain cases, such as this, summary judgment may be appropriate. (see Bello v. Transit Auth. of NY City, 12 AD3d 58, 783 N.Y.S.2d 648 (2004). The actions of the defendant, Marte, must be considered reasonable given the emergency she faced and the potentially harmful consequences to the children she was protecting. It is also apparent that Mr. Pavane proceeded into the intersection against the traffic light and, would fairly be considered to be the proximate cause of his injury. Where it is clear that the plaintiff’s actions were the sole proximate cause of the accident, plaintiff’s mere speculative assertions that defendant may have failed to act properly is insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact to defeat a summary judgment motion. (see Goff v. Goudreau, 222 AD2d 650, 650, 635 N.Y.S.2d 699 (2nd Dept. 1995); Vitale v. Levine, 44 AD3d 935, 844 N.Y.S.2d 105 (2nd Dept. 2007)).

Conclusion

It is the finding of this Court that Mr. Pavane’s [**9] own failure to stop at the red light and yield to children crossing the street was the sole proximate cause of the incident. The actions of the camp counselor, Ms. Marte, in the context of crossing the street with young children who she feared would be injured by the cyclist can only be considered reasonable and appropriate in the given circumstances. Mr. Pavane has not offered evidence which would raise a triable issue of fact as to the reasonableness of Ms. Marte’s actions and to subject the defendants here to the expenses of a trial on this matter would be exceedingly unjust.

Accordingly, defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted and the plaintiff’s complaint is dismissed.

This shall constitute the decision and order of this Court.

Dated: August 9, 2012

/s/

Hon. Bernard J. Graham, Acting Justice

Supreme Court, Kings CountyBottom of Form

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