On January 24, 1976 at around eight o’clock in the evening, an abandoned vehicle that was parked on the side of the roadway caught fire. The New York Fire Department responded to the scene, but the fire truck driver parked the truck in front of the vehicle that was on fire. Four other fire fighters began to battle the blaze. The fire captain on scene was holding a lantern and waving it to direct traffic. There were no police officers on the scene. The Nassau captain on scene noticed that a car was coming down the road and picking up speed. He attempted to get the driver’s attention so that he would not hit the four fire fighters who were working on the burning car. The vehicle did not slow up and proceeded to hit all of the firefighter killing one and seriously injuring the others. The injured firefighters filed a lawsuit alleging among other things that the driver was negligent, but that the City was also at fault for the accident because of the following: they failed to remove the abandoned car which caught fire based on the municipality’s responsibility to maintain its roadways in reasonable and safe condition for reasonable and foreseeable use.
The City failed to set up fire lines, the City was responsible for the actions of the fire truck driver when he placed the fire truck in front of the vehicle rather than using it to properly protect the safety of him and the other firefighters. The Suffolk Court left it to the jury to decide if the decisions of the Captain and the fire truck driver were questions of professional judgment or not. If it is determined that the decisions were those of professional judgment, then the City cannot be held liable. The jury was also instructed that under General Municipal Law § 205-a that a firefighter has an “independent statutory cause of action to recover damages for injuries or wrongful death caused ‘directly or indirectly as a result of any neglect. . .in failing to comply with the requirements of any of the statutes, ordinances, rules, orders and requirements of the federal, state, county, village, town, or city governments or of any and all their departments, divisions, and bureaus.'” This law applies to this situation because it is clear that the city failed to comply with several vehicular and traffic laws in failing to remove the abandoned vehicle in a timely manner.
The jury found unanimously that the city was negligent in failing to remove “the abandoned vehicle, failing to establish fire lines, and failing to park the fire truck properly, and that each of these acts of negligence was a proximate cause of the accident. It also determined that the (fire truck driver and the captain) as well as (the vehicle driver) were guilty of negligence which was a proximate cause of the truck accident.'” They also decided that the city was liable on the statutory cause of action.