New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

Longobardi v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-010-005, Claim No. 90746


No liability for injuries sustained when a stack of chairs of chairs fell on an infant visitor at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

Case Information

In the Matter of the claim of TONI ANN LONGOBARDI, an Infant by her Mother and Natural Guardian, DANIELLE GALLIPOLI, and DANIELLE GALLIPOLI, Individually
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :
The Court has, sua sponte, amended the caption to reflect the proper spelling of claimant's name.
Footnote (defendant name) :
The Court has, sua sponte, amended the caption to reflect the only proper party defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
BISOGNO & MEYERSONBy: George Silver, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Carol C. Poles, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 3, 2000
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

On Sunday, November 20, 1994, Toni Ann Longobardi[1]
(hereinafter "claimant"), who was then two and a half years old, was accompanied by her mother, Danielle Gallipoli, and her great-grandmother, Gloria D'Angelo, at the visiting room at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility ("Bedford"). They were visiting claimant's grandmother, Cherie Gallipoli. Claimant was playing on the floor, when a stack of chairs toppled over and caused her injury. Claimant contends that stacked chairs are a dangerous condition and that defendant was negligent in permitting them to remain in the visiting room. Defendant argues to the contrary and maintains that the chairs were kept in the visiting room to accommodate the number of visitors which was particularly high on weekends. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.
The visiting room was a large rectangular room with a number of tables and stackable chairs. Vending machines and a stack of chairs were located next to the right wall, near a guard post. (Exs. B, D).

Claimant's mother, Danielle Gallipoli, testified that she, her mother and grandmother, were seated at a table on the right side of the visiting room, at a distance of approximately six feet from the stacked chairs. Gallipoli described the chairs as two seats attached at the arms with metal legs and vinyl strapping. Gallipoli stated that the chairs were broken and that there were eight to ten chairs stacked at an approximate height of five feet. She testified that she had observed the stack of chairs on prior visits.

Gallipoli was aware that, in the back of the visiting room, there was a nursery, supervised by inmates, available for claimant. Gallipoli felt, however, that given claimant's age, it was preferable for her to remain under Gallipoli's supervision. During the first hour and a half of the visit, claimant played quietly on the floor with a toy, seated near her mother. Gallipoli testified that she heard a sudden noise and turned to observe a 10 year old boy tumbling down with the stack of chairs and onto claimant. Gallipoli screamed and removed claimant from under the chairs.

Claimant, who was seven years old at the time of trial, was not permitted to testify because it was apparent, upon questioning, that she did not have a sufficient understanding of the difference between truth and falsehood and the significance of the oath. Nonetheless, there was no evidence to suggest that claimant's conduct was a contributing cause of the accident.

Correction Officer Claud Parker testified that he has been employed at Bedford for seven years and was on duty in the visiting room on the date in issue. He stated that, on weekends, one officer is stationed at the visiting room entrance and three additional officers are assigned to the visiting room area and patrolled the area by walking, rather than remaining seated at stationary posts. Parker testified that children, supervised by adults, are permitted in the visiting room, however, the children are not supervised by the correction officers; supervision for children is provided only in the nursery by inmates.

Parker described that the chairs in the visiting room as stackable, single seats, similar to those depicted in defendant's exhibit B. Parker testified that, on the day of the accident, four to five chairs were stacked at a height of approximately four feet. He considered the stack solid. Contrary to Gallipoli's testimony, Parker stated that the chairs were usable and not broken. Parker was at a distance of 40 feet from claimant when the accident occurred. He came to her assistance and estimated that the chairs were located eight feet from the table.

It is well established that "[t]he State just as any other party *** is responsible, in the operation and management of its schools, hospitals and other institutions, only for hazards reasonably to be foreseen, only for risks reasonably to be perceived." (
Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342, 346). With respect to the safety of persons on its property, the duty of the State is one of reasonable care under the circumstances (see, Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 513; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233,241). The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of its premises and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the happening of an accident (see, Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850, 851; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874).
Upon listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that the credible evidence established that claimant was injured while momentarily unsupervised by her mother, when a stack of single seat chairs toppled over onto claimant, due to a 10 year old boy's unforeseen conduct. The Court finds Officer Parker's testimony most credible, in that there were four to five single seat chairs stacked against the visiting room wall to be utilized for an excessive number of visitors on the weekends. The Court finds that, under the circumstances presented, the presence of four to five stacked chairs did not create a dangerous condition. Rather, the facts establish that the accident was an unforeseen occurrence of which defendant cannot be held liable.

Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now GRANTED.


March 3, 2000
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]The claim of Danielle Gallipoli, individually, was withdrawn at trial.