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Richard and Joanna Ham sued the City of Syracuse and one of its police officers for negligence. Apparently, Officer Nelson Aquino and a partner were responding to an assist call placed by a fellow officer when they approached a "blind" intersection with "extremely limited sight lines."

Aquino testified at a deposition that, on the day of the accident in question, when he encountered a red light, he "inched" through the intersection. Aquino's partner testified that Aquino "slowed down to ... [a] creep," so that he could get a better perspective, when the vehicle collided with the Hams. (Neither the police vehicle's emergency lights nor siren was triggered.)

Under current law, there is no liability for injuries resulting from a response to an emergency call, unless the officer acted "recklessly." In other words, there must be an intentional and unreasonable "'disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow."  And to compound matters just a bit further, there must be a "conscious indifference to the outcome.'"

Faced with such a pretty high standard, the City moved to dismiss the Hams' case, alleging that under the given circumstances the officer could not be found "reckless" (or the City liable) as a matter of law. Interestingly, the Onondaga County Supreme Court disagreed, finding there were "issues of fact" as to whether Aquino operated the vehicle "in reckless disregard for the safety of others." 

On appeal, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed. The appellate court was also of the opinion that a trial was necessary to determine whether Aquino acted appropriately by "entering a blind intersection against the red traffic light at a questionable speed without fist activating his emergency lights and siren ...."

Guess who's squealing now?

For a copy of the Appellate Division's decision, please use the following link: Ham v. City of Syracuse