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Paternoster v. New Jersey Department of Transportation

Decided: June 20, 1983.

JOSEPHINE PATERNOSTER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF ALEXANDER PATERNOSTER, DECEASED; JAMES HUGHES AND ELIZABETH HUGHES, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENTS AND GUARDIANS OF ARTHUR HUGHES, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT-THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF, COUNTY OF OCEAN, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, TOWNSHIP OF DOVER, DEFENDANT-THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF, V. ROBERT AMBROSE AND ESTATE OF MARLENE WILLIAMS, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS. ROBERT WILLIAMS, AS ADMINISTRATOR AD PROSEQUENDUM FOR THE HEIRS-AT-LAW OF MARLENE WILLIAMS, DECEASED, AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF MARLENE WILLIAMS, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, V. NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT-THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF, COUNTY OF OCEAN, DEFENDANT, TOWNSHIP OF DOVER, DEFENDANT-THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF, V. JAMES HUGHES, ESTATE OF ALEXANDER PATERNOSTER, AND ROBERT AMBROSE, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County.

Bischoff, J. H. Coleman and Gaulkin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bischoff, P.J.A.D.

Bischoff

Plaintiffs sued defendant public entities for damages resulting from a fatal automobile collision allegedly caused by high piles of snow which obstructed the motorists' view of the road at the intersection. The trial judge granted defendants' motions for summary judgment ruling that they enjoyed "a broad blanket immunity" for snow-removal activities.

The record before the trial judge on the summary judgment motions disclosed the following facts which were accepted as true.

On February 11, 1978, in the morning, Alexander Paternoster was driving his car on Route 70 and his wife, Josephine Paternoster, was a passenger in it. They were on their way from their home in Bricktown to Philadelphia; such was their weekly custom. At the same time James Hughes was driving his car east on Route 70 on his way to Bricktown. His son and Bill Fern were in the car as passengers. He was approaching the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Route 70 in Dover Township, Ocean County. Marlene Williams at the same time was operating her car on Massachusetts Avenue, turning onto Route 70 en route to her home. A multi-vehicle collision occurred with resulting personal injuries and two fatalities. Marlene Williams explained that she was unable to see at the intersection because of the large snow pile on her left, blocking

her vision. The circumstances resulting in the placement of the snow pile are relevant and material to this appeal.

The State was responsible for the maintenance of Route 70 at the location of the accident. Testimony of John McKelvey, a maintenance foreman for the Department of Transportation since 1963, indicated that he was alerted on February 5, 1978 of an upcoming snow storm. It snowed all day February 6th with flurries continuing on February 7. Total accumulation in the area of the accident was 15 to 20 inches.

The State was responsible for snow removal on Route 70 east and west of Massachusetts Avenue. The County was responsible for snow removal on Massachusetts Avenue north and south of Route 70. The state trucks started working on snow removal about 1:30 a.m. on February 6 and continued until 4 p.m. on that date. The State had hired independent contractors to assist in snow removal. Their work was terminated about noon on February 7. While the contractors were plowing, state vehicles were cleaning ramps and jughandles. McKelvey checked the intersection in question before the accident occurred. On February 10 he checked the view motorists would have at the intersection by backing up his truck on Massachusetts Avenue to determine how well he could see. McKelvey realized that someone unfamiliar with the intersection would have to risk venturing into the intersection in order to make appropriate observations for traffic conditions on Route 70. This was a bad intersection even without snow and McKelvey knew that people frequently entered the intersection without stopping at the stop sign. After lunch he instructed his crew to reduce the snow piles; they did so. He rechecked the view and was satisfied that the stop signs were clearly visible and the intersection safe.

That same day at 3:10 p.m. Dover Township Police called in a request for the State to further reduce the snow piles at the intersection. They thought the piles were still unsafe. McKelvey responded and returned to the intersection. He then and

there supervised additional clearing of snow and "took down" the snow piles still further.

A consulting engineer, after considering a survey of the intersection, photographs of the snow piles, depositions and viewing the intersection, expressed the opinion that the high piles of snow removed from the highway seriously impeded the view of operators of ...


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