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State dangerous highway data ordered disclosed

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         NEW YORK         Freedom of Information    

State dangerous highway data ordered disclosed

  • Newsday won a lawsuit against the New York Department of Transportation over the release of highway safety data.

Oct. 15, 2003 — The New York State Department of Transportation must release data chronicling New York’s most dangerous highways, a state judge ruled.

In a suit brought by Newsday, a trial court in Albany ruled Oct. 8 that the information must be publicly available under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. The federal Highway Safety Act requires states to collect the data in order to receive federal funding.

The state Department of Transportation denied Newsday‘s September 2002 request for the information, citing a provision under the Highway Safety Act that prevents data collected under the law from being used as evidence or produced in discovery in a lawsuit for damages. In court documents, the DOT argued that if the data were made public under the state Freedom of Information Law, parties to personal injury actions would attempt to use it in lawsuits or to discover other evidence, resulting in time-consuming and burdensome motions by the state to exclude the evidence.

Judge George Crisia Jr. rejected the department’s argument, holding that Congress’ declaration that the records not be admissible as evidence in a lawsuit did not convey an intent to bar the records from disclosure under freedom of information laws.

“The controlling principle,” wrote Crisia, “is that which recites that FOIL is to be liberally construed, and that exemptions under FOIL are to be narrowly interpreted so that the public is granted maximum access to the records of government.”

Crisia’s order gives the Department of Transportation 30 days to make the data available to Newsday. He declined to award Newsday attorney’s fees in the case because the department’s interpretation of the law, while incorrect, was not unreasonable.

(Newsday, Inc. v. New York State Department of Transportation, Media counsel: Stephanie Abrutyn, Tribune Co., New York) GP

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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