Claimant seeks damages for the personal injuries he allegedly sustained at
approximately 8:20 a.m. on November 11, 1994, during his incarceration at Sing
Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing"), when a window fell out of its frame
and struck him on the head as he was seated in Mess Hall A.
The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the
issue of liability.
The window is the second one closest to the food counter in a series of
windows that line a 20 foot high brick wall. The top of the window is located
96 inches from the top of the wall. The bottom of the window is 40½ inches
from the floor. The window is a slider with an aluminum frame. It is 74 inches
by 36 inches,
inch thick and approximately 47 pounds.
Sergeant Edward J. Vaughn, who has been employed as a correction officer by the
New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") for 21 years, was
the supervisor for all of the mess halls at Sing Sing and usually arrived with
other staff at 5:45 a.m. Inmates entered the mess hall between 7:20 and 7:30
a.m. and stood in lines in front of the windows awaiting their turn at the food
counter. Vaughn testified that inmates in the mess hall are supervised by
correction officers and that only staff and inmate kitchen workers are
authorized to open and close windows. Vaughn testified, however, that he had
observed other inmates operating the windows and that, at times, civilian
workers were in the mess hall when there were no correction officers
Vaughn testified at trial that he saw the window fall, but he did not see it
hit claimant. Vaughn was then confronted with his examination before trial
that he had observed the window strike claimant. Vaughn attempted to explain
this discrepancy by stating that he had learned from others that the window had
Vaughn responded to claimant lying on the floor.
Claimant was removed from the scene and Vaughn placed the fallen window into the
kitchen. Vaughn does not know what happened to the window after
Vaughn reported claimant's accident to the watch commander and prepared a
written memorandum which stated that Vaughn was "told that this window had been
repaired before by institutional maintenance" (Ex. 7). Vaughn also noted that
he had checked the tracks for the window and they appeared to "have been
outwards which can cause the windows to rattle when wind blows" (Ex.
7, emphasis in original). On cross-examination, Vaughn maintained that the
reference to repairs in his memorandum was to winterizing procedures that are
performed every fall. Vaughn testified that there were no signs of rust on the
window. According to Vaughn, all of the other windows in the mess hall were
Vaughn testified at trial that he had heard rattling on a number of occasions
prior to claimant's accident, but that he was not sure if he had heard rattling
on that day. When confronted with his EBT testimony that he heard rattling on
the day of claimant's accident, Vaughn then recalled having heard the noise at
6:00 a.m. that day. Vaughn never reported any rattling.
Sing Sing Security Directive 546 provides that a weekly inspection be made of
all bars, locks, windows, doors and other security devices and Vaughn testified
that correction officers were responsible for inspecting the windows weekly (Ex.
15). Vaughn testified that any deficiencies in the windows found as a result of
an inspection would be noted in the watch commander's logbook; however the
logbook had been destroyed in a flood and was therefore not produced in
connection with this trial.
that he recalled making a cursory inspection of the windows as he walked through
the mess hall on November 11, 1994. He did not, however, include this
information in his report, nor did he mention it at his EBT. In fact, there was
no evidence, other than Vaughn's own testimony, that window inspections were
ever performed as required. Considering the other significant inconsistencies
between Vaughn's EBT testimony and his trial testimony, the Court does not
credit Vaughn's trial testimony that he recalls making a general inspection of
the windows six years ago.
Bruce Carver, the plant superintendent in charge of maintenance at Sing Sing
since May 1995, testified that if the window had been repaired, a work order
would have been generated. However, he searched the maintenance records for the
period from October 15, 1994 through December 31, 1994 and found no work orders
for repairs to any mess hall windows.
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) and 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
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 (
, Killeen v State of New York
, 66 NY2d 850, 851; Condon v
State of New York
, 193 AD2d 874). In order to prevail on his claim,
claimant must show: the existence of a foreseeably dangerous condition; that
the State created the condition or had either actual or constructive notice of
the condition; that the State failed to remedy the condition within a reasonable
time; that such condition was a proximate cause of claimant's accident; and that
claimant sustained damages (see
, Gordon v American Museum of Natural
, 67 NY2d 836; Ligon v Waldbaum, Inc.
, 234 AD2d 347; Mercer
v City of New York
, 223 AD2d 688, affd
Upon listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did
so, the Court finds that the credible evidence established that defendant was
negligent in its maintenance of the window and that such negligent maintenance
foreseeably led to claimant's injury (see
, Telfair v State of New
, 87 AD2d 610; Maguire v Nestun Realty Corp.
, 1 AD2d 688).
Vaughn was admittedly aware that a bent window track could cause rattling (Ex.
7); and he heard rattling on a number of occasions prior to claimant's accident,
including the hours before claimant's accident. Nonetheless, Vaughn did not
report the rattling to anyone nor did he make a reasonable inspection of the
window. Vaughn further testified that correction officers were responsible for
weekly inspections of the windows. However, there is no credible evidence
before this Court sufficient to establish that any such inspections were ever
performed. Notably, defendant cannot claim lack of notice by virtue of its
failure to conduct reasonable inspections (see
, Weller v Colleges of
, 217 AD2d 280, 285). The Court finds that, had Vaughn either
reported the rattling or made a reasonable inspection of the window at 6:00
a.m. on November 11, 1994, when he head the window rattling, the bent window
track would have been discovered and properly addressed prior to the window's
fall at 8:20 a.m. Notably, all of the other windows were
Claimant neither caused nor contributed to his accident. Accordingly, the
Court finds that defendant is 100 percent liable for claimant's injuries.
All motions not heretofore ruled upon are DENIED.
Upon filing of this Decision, the Court will set the matter down for a trial
on the issue of damages as soon as practicable.
LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.