This claim arises from an alleged exercise machine malfunction at the Cape
Vincent Correctional Facility on June 16, 1995. Claimant, who was once
incarcerated at that facility, maintains that an s-shaped metal hook or clamp
failed on a weight lifting machine he was using, causing a metal pull down bar
to detach from the machine and strike him in the neck and head.
A trial limited to the issue of liability took place on April 11, 2000 at the
Court of Claims in Syracuse. Claimant presented his own testimony and the
testimony of a former inmate named Mr. Steven Langhorne. Defendant called Mr.
Gary Mattraw, who was a recreation program leader at Cape Vincent, both at the
time of the trial and at the time of the alleged incident.
The weight lifting machine was operated from a sitting position. Photographs
of it (Exhibit 2) reveal that the pull down bar was tubular, somewhat thicker
than the handlebar on a bicycle, and bent slightly at each end where the
handgrips were located. When the machine was fully assembled for use, the pull
down bar was suspended horizontally above the place where the user would sit by
means of an s-shaped hook, which was attached to the center of the pull down
bar. The s-shaped hook, in turn, was attached to a wire cable. The cable ran
over the top of a metal frame, through two pulleys and down to a bracket onto
which one could load free weights. The user would lift the weights by reaching
up, grasping the pull bar and bringing it down toward his chest. After
completing a downward thrust, the user would then ease up on the bar and let it
return to its resting position.
In his trial testimony, Claimant described the events leading up to his June
16th accident. He said that he entered the gym, and obtained the pull down bar
from the recreation aide. He attached the bar to the machine and loaded the
weights he would need to perform his exercises onto the bracket. He then sat on
the bench and began using the machine. The accident occurred after he had used
the machine without incident for an estimated five to ten minutes. While he was
pulling the bar toward him, the s-shaped clamp separated from the cable. With
nothing to hold the bar in place, and with the resistance created by the weights
no longer a factor, the bar crashed down on Claimant's head and neck.
Claimant acknowledged that he did not check the machine before using it, but
did look at the hooks and clamps and noted that they appeared to be working
properly. He had previously used the machine on a number of occasions, however,
and was aware that it had a variety of problems. The cable would jump off one
of the pulleys. The bar was not level and therefore dragged from one side to
the other. The padding on the machine was old and, in Claimant's view,
inadequate. However, he had never had a problem prior to his accident with the
s-clamp becoming detached prior to his accident and had never seen or known of
anyone else having such a problem with that machine. He further acknowledged
that he had not notified anyone employed by Defendant of any problems with the
machine in question prior to the accident.
Mr. Steven Langhorne, who testified on behalf of Claimant, said he recalled
seeing the bar become detached from the machine and hit Claimant in the head.
He also claimed that on some date prior to the accident the cable on the machine
was badly frayed and ready to snap. Mr. Langhorne's testimony was not
particularly credible. Among other things, I have great doubts that he saw what
he described. Claimant's testimony did not place Mr. Langhorne in the room at
the time of the accident and Mr. Langhorne testified himself that he was
released from Cape Vincent Correctional Facility in May 1995, several weeks
the incident. I have placed no weight upon Mr. Langhorne's
Defendant's witness, Recreation Program Leader Mattraw, testified that
Defendant inspects its gym equipment, including the machine in question, on a
daily basis before the weight room opens. In the course of each inspection,
Defendant looks for frayed wires, detached hooks or broken parts and other
dangerous conditions. According to Mr. Mattraw, an inspection that preceded
Claimant's injury did not reveal any dangerous conditions or defects with the
weight lifting machine. Mr. Mattraw did recall incidents where the machine's
pulley mechanism had malfunctioned, but could not recall any incidents prior to
Claimant's accident that were similar to the one that injured Claimant. Nor
could he recall receiving any complaints about the weight lifting machine before
the accident or any injury that anyone had received while using the machine. On
cross-examination, he acknowledged that he had no specific recollection of the
incident or the day that Claimant was injured.
As an owner of the building and grounds, Defendant has a duty to act as a
reasonable person would to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition
Preston v State of New York
, 59 NY2d 997; Basso v Miller
, 40 NY2d
233). In connection with its operation of a gymnasium, it must use the same
level of care to assure that its equipment is reasonably safe and free from
hazards (85 NY Jur 2d, Premises Liability, §87; see also,
Gregaydis v Watervliet Civic Chest
, 14 AD2d 623). These obligations
extend to Defendant's correctional facilities (see, Kandrach v
State of New York
, 188 AD2d 910).
Defendant is not, however, an insurer, and negligence may not be inferred
solely from the happening of an accident (
Tripoli v State of New York
, 72 AD2d 823; Mochen v State of New
, 57 AD2d 719). Rather, a claimant must prove that Defendant breached a
duty of care owned to the claimant and that the breach of duty proximately
caused the claimant's injury (Basso v Miller
, 40 NY2d 233,
The evidence presented does not persuade me that Defendant breached a duty of
care. There was no evidence that Defendant had actual knowledge of the
defective condition of the s-clamp. Nor was there any evidence that the defect
in the s-clamp was visible or apparent or that it had existed for a sufficient
period of time for Defendant to discover it and remedy it. To the contrary, the
fact that Claimant used the machine without event for five to ten minutes before
the clamp detached suggests that there was no apparent problem with the s-clamp
until the moment it failed.
Claimant argues that Defendant had notice because there were other problems
that he had had with the equipment in the past. However, the evidence did not
establish that those problems were related to the s-clamp failure at issue
Claimant's case also fails to the extent that it is founded upon alleged
inadequacies in Defendant's inspection and maintenance of the equipment. Mr.
Mattraw was a credible witness. Although he did not specifically remember
Claimant's accident, I am convinced, based upon his testimony, that Defendant
had a daily inspection routine in place, that it followed that routine on the
day in question before Claimant began using the machine, and that the inspection
did not reveal that the s-clamp was defective or likely to fail. Claimant has
failed, therefore, to show negligence in Defendant's inspection or maintenance
of the weight lifting machine (
compare, Burkart v Health and Tennis Corp. of America
SW2d 367, 370 [Tex. Ct. App. 1987]).
For the reasons stated above, Claim No. 94323-A is dismissed. All motions not
heretofore ruled upon are denied.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.