The appellant in this matter is the State of New York. The respondent of the case is John VanDuyn Southworth. Southworth is responding both for himself and as the executor of the estate of Alice Keegan Southworth, deceased. The case is being heard in the Fourth Department, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.
The case before the court involves an issue involving an experimental driver’s rehabilitation program that was established by the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles. The question before the court is whether the state of New York can be held liable for issuing an interim driver’s license to a person that has a record of alcohol related driving violations.
The respondents, John Southworth and his wife Alice Southworth were involved in a serious motor vehicle accident. The accident left Mr. Southworth with serious injuries and Ms. Southworth was killed. The collision happened on Route 175 near Syracuse on the 31st of August, 1973. Uldis Baumanis was driving in the eastbound lane and crossed over to the westbound lane and collided with the Southworth’s vehicle. Baumanis was driving on an interim license that had been given to him two days earlier.
As a result of the accident Mr. Baumanis was convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) and criminally negligent homicide.
It is claimed that the state is liable for the injuries sustained by Mr. Southworth and the death of his wife. The reason for this claim is that the state is deemed negligent in the establishment and operation of the Onondaga County DWI Counter Attack Program. It is further claimed that by issuing the interim license to Mr. Baumanis, was negligent. It is stated that Mr. Baumanis was not a proper candidate for the program or the issue of this license.
The trial court found that the state of New York was negligent in the matter and that this negligence caused the injuries to Mr. Southworth and the death of Mrs. Southworth. This finding is being appealed by the State of New York.
Court Discussion and Decision
The charge as it stands states that the state should have known about the prior convictions of Mr. Baumanis simply by the nature of the program in question. Mr. Baumanis received a conviction two days before the issuance of the interim license. However, there was no way for the employees of the Onondaga program to know about this. The employees of the Onondaga program were simply complying with the procedures that were set forth by the program.
It is felt that the procedures of the program are defective. Additional procedural steps for handling cases such as the one of Mr. Baumanis need to be put in place. However, the program has been set up to help deter individuals from driving while intoxicated and offers a rehabilitation program to help individuals earn their licenses back.
While the accident that occurred was unfortunate, the establishment of the program by the state was not negligent in nature. For this reason the court will reverse the previous order that was made during the trial court proceeding. The claims against the defendants will be dismissed.
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