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Florence v. Goldberg

    Brief Fact Summary. Carol Florence (Plaintiff) brought an action to recover damages for personal injuries suffered by her infant son, who was struck by a taxicab operated by Goldberg (Defendant). Plaintiff recovered against Goldberg and the city. The latter appealed. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court. Plaintiff challenged the decision.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. To sustain liability against a municipality, the duty breached must be more than the duty owed to the general public. There must exist a special relationship between the municipality and the plaintiff, resulting in the creation of a duty to use due care for the benefit of particular persons or classes of persons.

    Facts. Plaintiff regularly walked her six year-old to school, and noted that the city police had stationed a crossing guard at a busy intersection. Noting the presence of the guard, Plaintiff ceased accompanying the child to school. One day, the crossing guard called in sick and, although Department regulations required the posting of a substitute when the usual guard was indisposed, no substitute was dispatched. The school principal was not informed f the situation. The child was struck while crossing the street and suffered severe brain damage.

    Issue. In failing to provide a crossing guard, was the city negligent and thus liable for Plaintiff’s damages?

    Held. No. Holding that in this instance there existed no duty flowing from the municipality to the Plaintiff, the court of appeals affirmed the ruling of the Appellate Division.

    Discussion. With regard to the responsibility owed by municipalities to members of the general public, a special relationship must exist to create a heightened duty on the part of the municipality. As the court states: “[a] municipality cannot be held liable for failure to furnish adequate police protection. This duty, like the duty to provide protection against fire, flows only to the general public. Where, however, a special relationship exists between a municipality and a plaintiff creating a duty, albeit one normally inuring only to the benefit of the public at large, a municipality may be held liable for damages suffered as a consequence of its negligence.” The law views the latter framework of determination of duty owed as a matter of public policy, best guided by the Legislature and not by the courts. The court in Florence explained, “[t]he extent of public services afforded by a municipality is, as a practical matter, limited by the resources of the community. Deployment of these resources remains, as it must, a legislative-executive decision which must be made without the benefit of hindsi.


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