New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

Jackson v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-016-042, Claim No. 90289


Liability found in slip and fall on water in State Office Building.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant's attorney:
Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C.By: Vito A. Cannavo, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Grace A. Brannigan, AAG
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 10, 2000
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

In the early evening of August 4, 1994, Sheila Jackson attended a film festival in the State Office Building at 163 West 125
th Street in Manhattan. She arrived at the theater which was on the second floor at about 6 p.m., paid the entrance fee, and selected a seat. Since she was a little early, claimant had time to go back toward the theater entrance where a concession stand was situated. Informed at the stand that it did not sell water, claimant was told there was a water fountain outside.
Jackson proceeded down the corridor: "I was walking towards the water fountain, and as I got close to it, my feet went from under me and I fell to the floor...I realized I was sitting in water."

At the time, the building was staffed with a mix of employees from the State and private companies. Eric Miller, of the State's Office of General Services, was the "supervising janitor" for the 125
th Street building with the responsibility to ensure that the maintenance contract was fulfilled. The contract was with the Federation of the Handicapped; and assigned therefrom were a cleaner, Sammy Lopez, and his immediate supervisor at Fed Cap, James Perkins. The claimant put Miller, Lopez and Perkins on the stand at trial. In addition to these three individuals (and Jackson herself), claimant called Steven Garel, a security supervisor for Trent Security who worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. The defendant did not present any witnesses.
The water claimant encountered was from work being done in a nearby office by Roxanne's Plumbing Co.
According to Miller – no representative of Roxanne's was called by either party -- the job "appeared to be a drainage of water from the overhead piping system." He stated that the plumbers were working in room 222, which was an office of the State Division for Youth (DFY) and next door to Miller's own office. In fact, Garel described the work site, in his incident report, as covering both offices .[1]
The plumbers were collecting the drained water in large buckets, or gondolas, which were wheeled across a hallway to a landing-sized vestibule, a fire exit stairwell that was open like a balcony. The water was then dumped on the vestibule floor; its
drain was known to clog from time to time (cl exh 5). To reach the water fountain, which was a few feet from the vestibule, the claimant walked past its entrance, at which point she slipped and fell because water had seeped out onto the floor of the hallway (cl exh 4, see circled initials "SG"; cl exh 7, p. 3 ).
Claimant's testimony that no wet-floor signs had been positioned was supported by Miller ("No, I didn't see any signs, no"). Nor was any portion of the hallway roped off. What warning there may have been was not visible from the hallway -- apparently a sign was placed by the DFY office, but that room was separated from the hall by a pair of doors. Jackson was wearing sneakers. On cross-examination, defendant suggested that Jackson should have been watching where she was placing her feet; such was not very persuasive: i) claimant had already walked the length of the hallway without incident, or seeing anything that would have alerted her to the danger, so it was quite reasonable then, in her final steps to look to the water fountain (cl exh 3); and ii) the vestibule door had been closed when Jackson fell, and without natural light, it was difficult to discern water on the floor in a spot described as a relatively dark corner with a reflection from the doors.
In order to prevail in her claim, Jackson must demonstrate that: (1) the hallway floor was not reasonably safe; (2) the defendant had sufficient actual or constructive notice thereof; and (3) the wet floor was a substantial factor in causing claimant's injury (
PJI 2:225).
On the third element, claimant's description of her accident,
i.e., that it was caused by the wet floor, was uncontested by any witness and supported by the exhibits (e.g., cl exh 7). Water seeping into a widely used hallway is a patently dangerous condition. It is unnecessary to determine whether water was tracked through the hallway or may have sloshed out of the gondolas. A wet floor of a corridor, open to the public without warnings or a safety precaution like absorbent mats, presented a foreseeable danger of injury which could have been avoided with little expenditure of time or money. Miller admitted as much:
"Q. ...a wet floor, that would be one of problems you had to address, correct? A. Yes. Q. Because you did not want someone to slip and fall on the wet fall(sic) in your building...? A. Yes.. Q. And if you became aware that there was a problem with the wet floor, it would be your duty to have someone clean that area, correct? A. Yes."
Miller came on duty that evening at 5 p.m. for a shift ending at 1 a.m.
He testified that at 5:15 he became aware that the plumbers were dumping water on the fire stair vestibule. Miller said that the plumbers had called him because they wanted the DFY office mopped, and he discovered their use of the vestibule, "suggesting" they use a slop sink elsewhere on the second floor to dispose of the water. The custodial supervisor conceded that water would collect there and run over into the second floor corridor: "we had observed that there was a lot of water in that vestibule area." Perkins of Fed Cap recounted, "I saw the young lady on the floor and water seeping from ...the balcony door, from the wall all the way around to the garbage can" [past the accident situs, cl exh 8].
While initially asserting he had no authority over the plumbers, Miller came to acknowledge responsibility for ensuring that passage through the hallways be kept safe. In any event, the state's responsibility is not one that can be delegated:
a governmental body, be it the state or a municipality, is under a continuing, nondelegable duty to maintain its public premises, ways, and facilities in a reasonably safe condition, and that liability will flow from injuries caused by a breach of that duty.[2]

But Miller never checked the condition in and around the vestibule. He did not attempt to learn if the plumbers did stop dumping the water and, if so, when. In any case, the area required mopping. With water spilling over into the hallway, no sign or any other safeguard was utilized.
Moreover, Miller had to be aware there was an evening event on the second floor; if not, as the State's most responsible person on the scene for maintenance, he should have been.[3] The film festival would have added a heightened sensibility regarding the risks of large quantities of water being trudged across the hallway. The plumbers' location was close to one bathroom (cl exh 8), as well as the only drinking fountain on that floor, both of which were highly likely to be used by the movie patrons.
Jackson fell less than an hour after Miller became aware of what the plumbers were doing. The incident report has it as 6:08 p.m. (cl exh 7). In the abstract not a long period, but it is, in view of the facts here, sufficient time to place a sign, mop (Perkins testified he had a vacuum drier) and/or close off the area.
At least three workers were on hand to perform one or more of these tasks – Lopez, Perkins and Miller. PJI 2:91 (see footnote 2).
In sum, defendant was negligent and such was a substantial factor in causing claimant's fall on August 4, 1994.
The defendant has the burden of proving whether claimant bears any share of responsibility; it has failed to do so. Unpersuasive, as noted, was defendant's cross-examination suggesting that Jackson was not looking where she was going. Defendant also inquired of claimant if she was wearing glasses. The response was in the negative, but nothing was elicited to suggest that she should have been. Defendant also asked a question on lighting (the overhead hall lights were on, but credible testimony was elicited on the shadowy corner) and whether claimant had previously walked in that corridor (once before at a 1980's film festival).


I find the defendant State of New York
liable for the slip and fall of Sheila Jackson on August 4, 1994 and any injuries resulting therefrom. All motions not previously ruled upon are deemed denied. The parties will be contacted to schedule a conference prior to the damage phase of trial.

July 10, 2000
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] "Roxanne's Plumbing Co... [was] present from earlier in the day and during the incident working on the 2nd floor (O.G.S. and D.F.Y office)..." [Cl exh 7, p.2].
[2] The Commentary to PJI 2:225, generalizing from Lopes v Rostad, 45 NY2d 617, 412 NYS2d 127 (1978). PJI 2:225 is entitled State or Municipal Liability -- Public Premises and Ways. The more generic standard is found in PJI 2:90 & 2:91; as a landowner, the State is subject to the same rules of liability that obtain in the private sector, Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 466 NYS2d 952 (1983).
[3]Above him in the supervisory chain, but apparently on daytime schedules, were the manager and the assistant building manager, neither of whom testified or created any documents that were admitted into evidence. Both Fed Cap employees, Lopez and Perkins, acknowledged that they reported to Miller and were overseen by him.