Claimant fell on January 1, 1998 in the shower room on E-1 Company at
Clinton Correctional Facility (hereinafter Clinton). He alleges that the water
temperature fluctuated suddenly to hot and as he stepped away from the hot water
he tripped on a 12-inch board that had been installed at the entrance to the
shower. The trial was bifurcated and thus proof was limited to the issue of
Claimant testified that he has been in a special housing unit (hereinafter
SHU) for approximately 10 years. He explained that inmates in SHU are permitted
only two to three showers per week. He related that January 1, 1998 was one of
his regular shower days. He walked to the shower room in his sneakers. He did
not have shower shoes because he had no funds with which to purchase them due to
his long-term confinement in SHU. Claimant entered the shower room, stripped
and then stepped into the shower.
Claimant provided a detailed description of the shower room through his
testimony, drawings he had made (claimant's Exhibits 2, 3, 4 and 5) and a model
he had constructed (claimant's Exhibit 1). The shower room was comprised of a
drying area and two showers. The two showers were each about three feet by four
feet. They were separated by a metal partition, but shared a common drain
(claimant's Exhibit 2). On the date of the incident the shower labeled as
Stall-A on claimant's exhibits was the only shower that was working. As an
inmate entered the shower, there existed a concrete step that measured six
inches in height on the drying room side and then dropped down one inch into the
shower (see, claimant's Exhibit 5). A 12-inch board had been positioned on top
of the concrete step. Thus, an inmate entering the shower stepped up a total of
18 inches to move his feet above the board and then down into the shower a total
of 13 inches (claimant's Exhibit 5).
Claimant stated that he grabbed the end of the metal partition between the two
showers, stepped over the board into shower stall-A, and then began his shower.
Claimant testified that there had been an ongoing problem with the common drain
in the shower. Specifically, he stated that there was no cover for the drain
and debris would get into the drain causing it to get partially clogged. He
related that after several minutes accumulated water would cover approximately
half the shower floor. Claimant stated that in an attempt to keep out of the
accumulating soapy water, he stood in the back of the shower near the concrete
step and board. According to claimant, he suddenly felt a "jolt of hot
He moved away from the hot water. He stated that he tried to lift his leg over
the board and step through the shower curtain. Allegedly, he tripped on the
board and fell "backwards through the shower curtain."
Claimant testified that the fluctuating water temperature had been an ongoing
problem with the shower in SHU. He stated that a person using the shower would
get a jolt of hot water whenever three or four inmates on the gallery flushed
their toilets at the same time. Claimant introduced into evidence an "Inmate
Grievance Complaint" filed by another inmate and dated December 20, 1997 in
which the inmate complained that the shower on E-1 gallery "keeps going back and
forth between hot and cold" (claimant's Exhibit 6).
On cross-examination, claimant acknowledged that he is incarcerated for first
degree rape, burglary and forgery. He had been housed on E-block at Clinton
since September 1997 and had used the same shower where the incident occurred
approximately two times per week for three months. The twelve-inch board had
been present in the shower during the entire three-month period prior to the
accident that claimant used the shower. Claimant had not made any written
complaint about the condition of the shower before the date of the accident.
During the three months before the incident claimant experienced the fluctuating
water temperature in the shower. He contended, however, that the water had not
previously become as hot as it did on the date of the accident. He agreed that
he did not receive any burns from the water.
Claimant called Correction Officer James Archambault as a witness. Officer
Archambault was assigned to E-1 gallery and related that he brought inmates to
the showers as part of his normal duties. He stated that the shower drain does
get clogged from time to time and that when it clogs, the maintenance department
is called to fix the problem. Officer Archambault has worked in SHU since
September 1994. He did not recall hearing any complaints from inmates about the
water temperature fluctuating.
Claimant also called Charles Layhee, who is a maintenance supervisor at
Clinton. Mr. Layhee stated that he thought the board was installed in the
shower in 1997. He recalled that the Inmate Liaison Committee had requested a
board in front of the shower stall to reduce the amount of water that went out
into the drying area. He believed a lower board was used initially, but it did
not keep the shower curtain inside the shower and therefore the higher board was
placed in the shower. Mr. Layhee stated that he did not know why there was no
cover over the drain in the shower. He added that a temporary cover was not
used because inmates could use it to make a weapon. When asked about water
temperature fluctuation, Mr. Layhee stated that the temperature might vary "a
few degrees" when three or four inmates flushed their toilets. However, he
added that there was a "guard" on the water heater that prevented the water
temperature from exceeding 110 degrees.
The State is not an insurer of its premises (
see, Davis v State of New York
, 133 AD2d 982, 983; Skaria v State of
, 110 Misc 2d 711, 713). It is subject to the same rules regarding
premises liability as govern private landowners and thus must maintain its
premises in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the relevant
circumstances (Miller v State of New York
, 62 NY2d 506, 511-513; Keir
v State of New York
, 188 AD2d 918). The measure of reasonableness is
essentially factual in nature (see, Trincere v County of Suffolk
, 90 NY2d
The court is not convinced that the water temperature fluctuated as
drastically as proclaimed by claimant. While the water temperature did
fluctuate when several inmates simultaneously flushed their toilets, the
credible evidence established that any such fluctuation was minimal. The court
accepts the testimony of Charles Layhee that the change in water temperature was
only a few degrees. Mr. Layhee also testified that the water heater was set to
prevent the temperature from exceeding 110 degrees. Based upon such facts, the
court does not find convincing claimant's contention that the water suddenly
became so hot that he had to move to avoid being burned.
The placement of a twelve-inch board at the entrance of the shower presents a
closer question. Indeed, under most circumstances, such a precipitous barrier
at an entrance to a shower would present a serious issue of liability.
Consideration of the credible facts, however, leads to the conclusion that such
conduct was not unreasonable under the prevailing circumstances. Inmates in SHU
at Clinton had requested that a barrier be placed at the shower entrance. A
lower barrier was initially used, but proved to be ineffective. The twelve-inch
board was thus employed. Claimant was fully aware of the board, which had been
in place during the entire three months he used the shower before the accident.
Moreover, during the months before the accident, claimant failed to register
any written complaints about the conditions in the shower despite his full
familiarity with the prevailing conditions. Claimant's other sundry arguments
have been considered and, upon weighing the evidence presented, found
unpersuasive. The court is not convinced that claimant has proven by a
preponderance of the credible evidence that culpable conduct by defendant caused
his alleged fall in the shower room.
The claim is dismissed and the Chief Clerk of the Court of Claims is directed
to enter judgment accordingly.