___ AD3d ___, ___ NYS3d ___, 2015 NY Slip Op 06556
Our supposedly Unified Court System is in fact notoriously fractured, with many courts of limited jurisdiction. This sometimes creates wholly unnecessary difficulties, and this case is one of them.
There were two joint tortfeasors involved in plaintiff’s accident, but because one of them was the State, plaintiff could not sue them both in the same court. The action against the State had to be brought separately in the Court of Claims. This is not only expensive for plaintiff, with obvious dangers of inconsistent verdicts, but presents the problem of apportioning fault between the tortfeasors. The problem is interesting as a technical exercise, perhaps, but the court system we have allows no good result. It would not arise if there were a single-tier trial court.
The plaintiff was driving on a state highway and was injured by a tree limb falling from the property of the present defendant. Plaintiff alleged that the State was also liable, for failing to maintain the trees adjoining the highway. Plaintiff was forced to commence parallel actions, suing the tree owner in Supreme Court, and the State in the Court of Claims. The tree owner claimed the benefits of Article 16 limited liability but this requires an apportionment between the tortfeasors. How is this to be accomplished if they are not joined in one action?