New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ANDOLA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-009-003, Claim No. 93525


Synopsis


Claimant brought this claim alleging negligence against the State in the design and maintenance of a ramp/walkway on the SUNY-Oswego campus. The Court did not find that the ramp constituted a dangerous condition, and dismissed the claim.

Case Information

UID:
2000-009-003
Claimant(s):
JOHN A. ANDOLA The Court, sua sponte, has amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant before this Court.
Claimant short name:
ANDOLA
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The Court, sua sponte, has amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant before this Court.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
93525
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
Nicholas V. Midey, Jr.
Claimant's attorney:
FINKELSTEIN, LEVINE, GITTELSOHN & PARTNERS
BY: Victoria Lightcap, Esq.,of Counsel.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Louis J. Tripoli, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney General of Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 23, 2000
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
This claim arose on January 19, 1995 at Scales Hall, a dormitory on the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oswego campus, when claimant fell and sustained personal injuries. The trial was bifurcated and this decision addresses only the liability issue.

Claimant's daughter had recently transferred to SUNY Oswego, and claimant was in the process of assisting his daughter in moving her personal belongings into her dorm room at Scales Hall. He had first entered the dormitory hall through the main entrance, but claimant testified that he was then directed by an individual inside the dormitory to utilize the exit door at the rear of the dormitory building, since it was in closer proximity to his daughter's assigned room. While exiting the dormitory through this rear door for the first time, claimant opened the door by using an attached push bar. According to the testimony elicited at trial, the door swung open from left to right as it opened outward from the building.

Upon exiting the building through this door, claimant testified that he stepped down with his right foot first and then took another step with his left foot. Upon taking this second step, he fell off the edge of a concrete ramp which led from the door entrance and gradually sloped down to the driveway area.

Photographs were admitted into evidence (see Exhibits 1-6) which clearly show a drop-off of approximately five inches (at its greatest height differential) between the edge of the ramp and the exterior wall of the covered walkway. However, the photographs also reveal that the ramp extended beyond the width of the doorframe by at least six inches, so that an individual exiting the building did not have to necessarily restrict his or her travel exclusively to the width of the doorway. Claimant's testimony, and a review of the photographs admitted into evidence, established that the ramp was constructed of concrete, and was the same color as the surrounding area. The ramp did not have any painting to indicate the edge-line of the ramp, and it did not have any railings. Claimant also testified that the ramp was in good repair, and free of debris. Although the incident occurred in the month of January, the ramp, which was under a covered walkway, was dry and free from ice and snow.

Defendant called two witnesses, both of whom were employees of the State University of New York at Oswego. Thomas R. Simmonds was the Assistant Director of Residential Facilities at the college, and Thomas M. Ryan was the Assistant Vice-President for Public Safety at the campus. The sum and substance of their testimony established that this ramp had existed for some undetermined time, and that it had been added after the construction of the dormitory itself in 1961. Both witnesses testified that there had never been any reports of injuries or complaints of a dangerous situation pertaining to this ramp, nor to any similar ramps that had been constructed on numerous other walkways throughout the campus, at any time prior to this incident.

The State has the same duty as any landowner and must maintain its facilities in a reasonably safe condition (
Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997). With respect to the safety of persons on its property, this duty is one of reasonable care under the circumstances (Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233). The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of its premises and negligence may not be inferred solely from the occurrence of an accident (see, Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719). In order to establish liability, a claimant must establish the existence of a foreseeably dangerous condition; that the State either created, or had actual or constructive notice of the condition and failed to remedy it; and that the hazardous condition was the proximate cause of claimant's injury. (See, Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836; Lewis v Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 99 AD2d 246, affd 64 NY2d 670).
The claimant, at the outset, bears a fundamental burden and must show a dangerous or defective condition of which the defendant should have foreseen the reasonable possibility of injury to users (
Allen v Carr, 28 AD2d 155, affd 22 NY2d 924).
In this particular case, the Court, after reviewing all of the exhibits and carefully considering all of the testimony presented to it, finds that the condition of the ramp as it existed at the time of the accident was not foreseeably dangerous. Testimony established that the ramp was in good condition, and even though claimant's fall occurred during winter weather, the walkway was dry, and free from ice and snow.

The alleged defect in the ramp, as argued by claimant, was that it did not extend, width-wise, to the exterior wall of the covered walkway. The width of the ramp, however, was wider than the door threshold, and provided ample walking area for ingress and egress. Additionally, the Court has taken into consideration the absence of any other accidents involving this ramp, which had been constructed several years prior to the incident herein. Evidence of use of an area by others without accident is relevant and often persuasive in determining whether a dangerous condition exists (
Stein v Trans World Airlines, 25 AD2d 732).
The Court therefore finds that the alleged defect is not of such a character as to impose liability against the State. Having reached this conclusion, the question of notice, either actual or constructive, is moot.

In view of the finding herein that a dangerous condition did not exist at the time and place of the incident, Claim No. 93525 must be and hereby is DISMISSED.

Any motions not heretofore ruled upon are now denied.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.


June 23, 2000
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY, JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims