New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MORGAN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-014-110, Claim No. 96475


Claim for personal injury is dismissed after trial; the proximate cause of the claimant's injury was inadequate attention to a readily observable condition.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The Court of Claims does not have jurisdiction over "State University Hospital (Downstate Hospital)" as an entity distinct from the State of New York (see, Court of Claims Act §9). Thus, the Court sua sponte dismisses the claim against that named defendant, and amends the claim's caption accordingly.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

S. Michael Nadel
Claimant's attorney:
Mark E. Seitelman Law OfficesBy: Patrick D. Gatti, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Cassandra Mullen, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 16, 2000
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The claim alleges that on March 18, 1996, at approximately 8:45 A.M., the claimant, an employee of a food service provider, Aramark Food Services, at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Brooklyn, was caused to fall by a negligently placed electrical cord which provided electricity from a wall outlet to a pole mounted intravenous (IV) pump, in a hospital room.

The claimant, for 12 years a dietary hostess at the facility, testified that at the time of the incident she was delivering breakfast on a food tray to a patient in Room 608 of the hospital. She stated that she normally did not work on that floor of the hospital and was unfamiliar with the particular room. The patient was in the far bed of a double room, the head of which was against the wall to the left as one entered the room. Against the right wall there were four chairs, two for each patient. The claimant testified that in between the two far chairs stood an approximately six foot pole with a blue IV pump mounted on it about four feet up the pole.

The claimant testified that upon entering the room, the patient asked her to put the tray on the furthest chair, located several feet from the foot of the bed. She placed the food tray on the chair, and then turned around in order to exit the room, at which point her foot became tangled in an electrical cord, that connected the IV pump to a wall outlet located in between the two chairs, causing her to fall.

The claimant stated that she did not observe the electrical cord prior to her fall because the food tray that she was holding at chest level blocked her line of vision to the floor. When she began to rise from the fall she realized the cord was on her foot and that it was connected to the idle IV pump. She testified that a portion of the cord lay on the floor extending approximately two feet past the chairs towards the foot of the far bed.

The claimant also testified that during the three months prior to this incident she had noticed on 10 separate occasions an electrical cord connected to an IV pump on the floor in the area between chairs and a bed, in other patients' rooms. She stated that the nurse staff was responsible for the IV pumps and poles but that she did not know who had placed the pole on the day of the incident.

On cross-examination the claimant testified that the food tray that had blocked her line of vision to the floor when she entered the room had been placed on the chair before she turned around in order to leave the room, and that there was nothing in the room that blocked the pump from her sight. Further, she acknowledged that while she normally did not work on that floor of the hospital and was unfamiliar with Room 608, all of the double rooms in the hospital had similar layouts. She testified that she had noticed on previous occasions the placement of an IV pump between the two chairs opposite a patient's bed, plugged into the outlet by the chairs, and that she was aware that all of the IV pumps had electrical cords attached to them.

The claimant called as a witness Mercedes Brown, Assistant Director of Nurses at the hospital, who had been employed there for approximately 22 years. She testified that all of the double rooms have two beds and four chairs. She stated that IV pump power cords are not retractable, but rather have a flexible band on the pump onto which the cord is gathered. She testified that when a patient is in the bed, the IV pump is normally plugged into an outlet near the head of the bed. However, when a patient is sitting in one of the chairs at the foot of the bed, or if the IV is attached to the patient's leg rather than to the arm, the IV pump would be plugged into a wall outlet behind the two chairs. She stated that nurses are responsible for setting up and plugging in an IV pump. She also said that when an IV pump is no longer needed for a patient's treatment, it is removed from the hospital room and stored either in a supply area or in a utility room, depending on the condition of the apparatus. She noted that an IV pump may be used intermittently, in which case it would remain in the patient's room even when not in use.

On cross-examination, Ms Brown testified that there might be several pieces of equipment with electrical cords in a patient's room, and that nearly every patient's room has an IV pump in it, to which an electrical cord is always attached. Ms Brown testified that while there were no warning signs on the IV equipment, their presence in a hospital room is so common that they are not dangerous. She stated that prior to this incident she had not observed an IV pump cord extending past the chairs towards the foot of a patient's bed; nor prior to this incident had she had occasion to prepare an accident report for a fall caused by an electrical cord in a patient's room.

The facts of the incident are not really in dispute. At issue is whether the circumstances amount to a dangerous condition for which the State should be held liable.

"[T]he mere happening of an accident does not constitute negligence."
Candelier v City of New York, 129 AD2d 145, 148. As in any negligence case, the threshold issue is whether the defendant "had a legally cognizable duty to prevent the accident" in which the claimant was injured. DiPonzio v Riordan, 89 NY2d, 578, 582. While landowners have a duty to maintain their properties in reasonably safe condition and adequately warn against danger if someone would not discover or realize a peril, the duty is not without limits. Id., at 582-583. Existence of a duty necessarily includes "an examination of an injured person's reasonable expectation of the care owed and the basis for the expectation and the legal imposition of a duty." Palka v Servicemaster Mgt., 83 NY2d 579, 585.
In this regard, it has long been the law of this State that a person is bound to see what, with proper use of one's senses, should have been seen.
Weigand v United Traction Co., 221 NY 39. There is no duty to warn of a "condition that can readily be observed by those employing the reasonable use of their senses." Tarricone v State, 175 AD2d 308, 309.
Applying the foregoing to the evidence presented, the claimant has failed to offer sufficient evidence to support a finding of liability against the defendant. The claimant was familiar with the layout of the rooms in the hospital and she had observed IV pumps in the area between the chairs on a number of occasions prior to the incident. She knew that each IV pump had an electrical cord attached to it and she had observed the cord on the floor between the chairs and a bed on a number of previous occasions. Under all these circumstances, the proximate cause of the claimant's injury was her inadequate attention to a readily observable condition.

In accordance with the foregoing, the claim is dismissed.

June 16, 2000
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims