I have received several calls this week from people living in New York City and Long Island whose cars or vehicles suffered damages at the hand of snowplows in the recent spate of storms. Here’s a typical question: “A snow plow hit my parked car and caused thousands of dollars in damage, can I get the City to pay for the damage?”
The short answer is that you are best off filing a claim with your auto insurance carrier and let them go after the City or the municipality. If you do not have collision coverage, you can file a claim yourself. Let me take more time to explain.
If Your Car is Struck by a Snow Plow, Who is at Fault?
First, a word of support for the snowplow drivers. These men and women work under difficult conditions. When the snow falls and the wind blows, we curl up at home, but they don their winter garb and head off to work. They face terrible conditions and great stress to keep working. Often they work at night in the midst of the snowstorm when visibility is limited. Most likely, they did not mean to strike your car. Sometimes, they may not have even known that they struck your vehicle.
That said, if you took reasonable care in parking your car and you were struck by a snowplow, you may have a legal basis for seeking compensation. You need to prove two points:
- You need to have taken reasonable care in parking your car: Were you parked legally? If you parked on a snow emergency route, you may have no basis for a claim. If you parked your car too far from the curb, you may have no basis for a claim. You need to prove that you parked legally or had a very good reason for parking in an illegal spot.
- You need evidence that the snowplow caused the damage to your car: I had one man call the office wanting to sue the City for damage to his car even though he had no evidence that a plow hit his car. You need to have some proof that a snowplow caused the damage. That evidence could take the form of a note – if the plow left one – or a police report. If you saw the accident happen or if you have witnesses, that might suffice.
Filing a Claim
If you parked appropriately and have evidence that a municipal snowplow caused the damage to your car, then you can file a claim for damages. You do not need an attorney to file a claim.
In New York City, you can file a claim on line with the New York City Comptroller’s office. Click here for the form. In other locations, you need to determine which municipality owned or hired the snowplow. Then you can file a claim with that municipal entity. You need to file the claim with the appropriation office; often times that is the Town Attorney or the Town Clerk’s office. You can call to ask. If you file the claim with the wrong office, you may lose your claim. The claim can take the form of a letter and needs to state what happened, where it happened, what date and time and what evidence you have. You have 90 days from the date of the incident to file a claim, though the sooner you file the better.
Once you file the claim, a representative from the City or the municipality should contact you to try to resolve the claim. The representative may want an estimate for the damage repair and the evidence you have that the snowplow caused the damage. The representative will notify you if the municipality will pay for the damage and how much.
Going to Court
If you file a claim, the municipality may refuse to pay or may not offer enough. If you want to pursue the matter, you can go to court. In New York City, you can go to Small Claims Court for damages up to $5,000. You will need at least two damage estimates. You can find more information about NYC Small Claims Court here. Again, you do not need an attorney as the State designed Small Claims Court as a place where citizens could represent themselves.
If you live on Long Island, you need to file an action in District Court in either Nassau or Suffolk County. District Court has jurisdiction for any amount up to $25,000. Again, you will need at least two estimates of the damage sustained by your vehicle and you can represent yourself. You can find more information about the Nassau District Court here and the Suffolk District Court here.
I hope you have found this information helpful. I practice personal injury law in the New York Metropolitan areas. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury through the negligence or recklessness of another, you may be entitled to compensation. If you have questions, you should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer in New York. I will be glad to answer your questions and assist you. There is never a charge for this consultation. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me. You can also visit my website or read more on my blog, New York Law Thoughts.