The liability aspect of this claim was tried on April 3, 2000. Mark A. Juda,
Esq., on behalf of the claimant, called three witnesses, namely Correction
Officer David Franklin, Sergeant Eileen Bennet, also a correction officer, and
the claimant, Paul D. Williams, Jr. The witnesses and their testimony appeared
straightforward and the Court did not discern any material conflict in their
This accident occurred at approximately 2:00 p.m. on January 22, 1996, while
the claimant was an inmate at Lakeview Shock Correctional Facility. At
approximately 8:30 a.m. the claimant and 11 other inmates were transported in a
van from the correctional facility to an area about 12 miles away. Their job
was to cut tree limbs in a wooded area. When the unarmed driver, Correction
Officer David Franklin, and the 12 inmates arrived in the vicinity of the work
area, they still had about 250 yards to go to reach the actual work site.
Because the work site was located in a rugged hilly area covered by two feet of
snow, the van could not reach it. Correction Officer Franklin had obtained the
use of a tractor and flat bed trailer (two flat boards on two wheels), owned by
the Village of Westfield, to transport the inmates and work equipment the 250
yards from where the van stopped to the actual work site.
When they were leaving in the afternoon, Correction Officer Franklin stated
the inmates were given the option to either ride back to the van on the trailer
or to walk over the rough, snow covered terrain. Not surprisingly, claimant
and others chose to ride on the trailer, which was pulled by the tractor driven
by Correction Officer Franklin. The tractor and trailer, which had no
guardrails, encountered a rut, pitched to the side, and claimant was thrown off
the trailer. While the claimant was on the ground the trailer ran over his leg,
causing the injuries complained of herein.
The claimant chose to ride the trailer rather than to walk through the two
feet of snow. The possibility of falling off the trailer was probably as
apparent to the claimant as to Officer Franklin. However, it appears to this
court that the proximate cause of claimant's injury, was not falling off the
trailer but rather being run over by it. When Officer Franklin undertook
carrying claimant and the others on the trailer, he had a duty to exercise due
care in their transport. Officer Franklin should have been aware when the
trailer pitched, someone might have fallen off. He should have been on guard
not to run over such a person. When the trailer pitched, Officer Franklin
should have stopped the tractor. Officer Franklin said it was moving slower
than a person walking. Instead, he continued until he heard other inmates
hollering. By this time, claimant was five to ten feet behind the trailer, and
had been run over by it.
The court finds that the proximate cause of claimant's injury was Correction
Officer David Franklin's negligence in not maintaining a sufficient lookout
while driving the tractor. The court finds the defendant liable for the
claimant's injuries and directs that an early convenient trial date on the issue
of damages be scheduled.
LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.