In Ruiz v Cope, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department affirmed a decision by the Supreme Court of Onondaga County to award a man money damages after a non-jury trial against a police officer, Brendan Cope, the Syracuse Police Department, and the county. At the time of the accident Cope was being field trained under a sergeant’s supervision. The accident occurred when, shortly before the collision, Cope received a call on his radio alerting him of shots fired. The sergeant supervising Cope turned on the sirens and lights and Cope drove through a red light at the intersection striking the Plaintiff, Chalina Ruiz.
Cope entered the intersection against the light, failing to come to a complete stop. His failure to fully stop at the intersection was a violation of the Syracuse Police Department’s rules and regulations. There were conflicting accounts from witnesses and physical evidence, included a forty-five foot skid mark, regarding whether Cope slowed down or looked in the direction Ruiz was coming from before entering the intersection.
In the Supreme Court, Onondaga County the defendants moved for summary judgment, meaning that no issue of fact exists for the jury to decide, claiming Cope’s actions did not rise to the level of recklessness under New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104 allows authorized emergency vehicles, including police cars, to disregard certain traffic laws in the event of an emergency. This law allows a police car to cross an intersection at a red light if the car slows down as needed for safe operation. However, the law does not “relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall such provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others.” The police in this case were claiming that there was no question of fact that Cope’s behavior was reckless, and that because of this summary judgment should have been granted in their favor by the Supreme Court.
The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, upheld the decision of the Supreme Court. The Appellate Court noted that there were doubts as to whether Cope slowed down to a near stop at the intersection, and as to whether he looked left before crossing the red light. The Court also noted that a question existed as to whether Cope had been reckless, because Cope’s view of the intersection was obstructed by buildings, the roads were wet, other vehicles were on the road, and Cope had violated the rules and regulations of the Syracuse Police Department. Therefore, the Court upheld the Supreme Courts decision to deny summary judgment in favor of the police.
At trial the Supreme Court found that Cope had disregarded a known and obvious risk when she crossed the intersection against the light without stopping. The Appellate Department also upheld the judgment of the Supreme Court holding that Ruiz had sustained serious injuries as defined by New York Insurance Law § 5102 (d). This law, often called the no-fault insurance law, restricts lawsuits resulting from automobile accidents to cases of serious injury. The court in this case found that Ruiz had presented sufficient evidence in the form of testimony from her chiropractor to fall within the definition of “serious injury.” Insurance Law § 5102 (d) defines serious injury in several ways, one of which is a significant limitation of use of a body function or system for 90 out of 180 days following an accident. In this case Ruiz presented evidence of loss of motion for more than 90 out of the 180 days following the accident.