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
, 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
NY2d 836; Lewis v Metropolitan Transportation Authority
, 99 AD2d 246,
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.