On May 7, 2009, a Niagara Falls, NY police car ran into a funereal procession in the town of Tonawanda, at the Sheridan Drive and Elmwood Ave. intersection. Stephanie Insalaco of Grand Island, the passenger inside the vehicle, suffered significant back injuries and has had multiple surgeries.
Police Officer Nicholas Ligammari had just been to a meeting at the town police headquarters on Sheridan Drive. The funereal procession had just left a church nearby when Insalaco's car went through a red light and got hit by the police vehicle.
Ligammari had the green light in his unmarked police car at the intersection so he was not in the wrong, with the caveat that the law does allow funeral processions to go through red lights if there is a police car leading the procession. In this case, there was no police escort, but a town police officer was directing traffic.
Insalaco, who was working as an IRS employee, can no longer work because of her injuries. The case filed by Insalaco went to trial earlier this year in the State Supreme Court, where the jury did not decide on how much in damages Insalaco could collect.
They only assigned the liability for the incident –the City of Niagara Falls was held liable for 50 percent and the Town of Tonawanda took 10 percent. The driver of the car in which Insalaco was riding took the remaining 40 percent liability.
Stephanie Insalaco ultimately won a $3.6 million settlement from Niagara Falls. The law department of Niagara Falls recommended the city council should approve $750,000 to satisfy the claim filed by Insalaco, with the balance being paid by the city's insurer. The town of Tonawanda paid has approved $200,000 and already paid another $60,000 for medical and legal expenses borne by Insalaco.
Did you know?
A government entity such as a city can claim sovereign immunity for car accidents at traffic lights.
Sovereign immunity in this case means you cannot sue the city for planning level decisions. You can sue them for faulty operation or maintenance (or lack thereof). Even then, the process is vastly different from other suing a private entity or individual. Before filing a claim against the government, you have to file an "intent to sue notice" within a statutory period that may vary by state.