New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SANTANA v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-018-014, Claim No. 98653


Claimant fell on an interior stairwell due allegedly to mud and water tracked on the stairs from other inmates going in and out of the building on a rainy day. Claim was dismissed due to discrepancies between claimant's testimony regarding the day the incident occurred , and how he was injured, as well the lack of actual or constructive notice to the State.

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):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: CARLA T. RUTIGLIANO, ESQUIREAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 12, 2000

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant seeks damages for injuries sustained by him while an inmate at Mid-State Correctional Facility (hereinafter referred to as Mid-State) on November 1, 1997. The claim alleges that the State was negligent in its maintenance of an interior stairway used by inmates in "A" building. The trial addressed issues of both liability and damages.

The claimant testified that he had been an inmate at Mid-State for six months to a year prior to his accident. He lived on the third floor, dormitory A-7, of "A" building which is a minimum-security area. There was only one set of stairs in that building that the inmates could use. Claimant could not remember exactly what he did during the day on Saturday, November 1, 1997, but at approximately 6:00 p.m., he was leaving the third floor to go to the yard. After donning his boots and jacket, he opened the door to the stairwell and started down the stairs. On the second or third step down, his left foot slipped, his body propelled forward but because he was holding the handrail with his right hand, he swung to the right and the left side of his face hit the railing.

Claimant testified he was trying to grab the handrail with his left hand to break his fall. He was dizzy at first but made his way to the first floor where he told a correction officer what happened. Claimant requested medical treatment; he could move part of his jawbone independently from the remainder of his jaw, and when he closed his mouth his top and bottom teeth did not meet.

Claimant was taken to the infirmary where he was given pain medication and then transported to University Hospital in Syracuse. The swelling was too severe to allow immediate surgery. After three days, his jaw was surgically repaired with screws and wired shut. Claimant testified he was in constant pain except for numbness in his chin, lower lip and tongue. Claimant testified he was on a liquid diet which he drank through a straw. He still suffers from numbness in his jaw and has difficulty chewing hard items.

Claimant testified that the stairs were very worn and dark in color. There are no lines to mark the edges. On the day of the accident it was rainy, and claimant saw many inmates coming in and going out. Claimant testified he had often noticed that the stairs were not cleaned when they were muddy and wet, but he never complained to any officer about the lack of maintenance prior to his accident. Nor did he know of any other inmate complaining of the poor condition of the stairs.

On cross-examination, claimant admitted that in his deposition he said the accident happened on a workday, and that the stairs were wet and muddy from the work crews coming in. He said he realized his mistake after he received the deposition transcript from his attorney. He recalled that the day he was injured was a Saturday because he was planning on watching a heavyweight boxing match on television that evening.

Admitted into evidence on claimant's case in chief was the deposition of Stanley Sroka taken January 12, 1999. Stanley Sroka, a Correction Officer, was working the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift on November 1, 1997, and was assigned to the third floor of "A" building. At approximately 6:15 p.m., Mr. Sroka received a telephone call from an officer in the lobby of "A" building during which he was told of claimant's injury. Sroka went to the lobby and spoke with then Sergeant Mitchell, telling him that earlier in the day he had heard a scuffle in the A-7 day room. When Sroka entered the dayroom, he saw chairs knocked over and inmates standing around. He did not see anyone who appeared to be injured, nor was he sure if claimant was among the inmates in the dayroom. He related this information to Mitchell. He was never asked about the condition of the stairs when he went to the lobby just after claimant reported his injury.

In the deposition, Sroka was asked about the stairs in general. Although not sure what they were made of, he knew they were not wooden or metal. They may be concrete. He also said they are covered with a black rubbery material covering each entire step.

Exhibit "B," claimant's complete medical file kept by the Department of Correctional Services, contains the following information in claimant's Ambulatory Health Record for the day of the accident: "unable to articulate and appears to be dislocated or fx. Tongue swelling left jaw? fx. Abrasion right (illegible). Left breast multiple abrasions and under left arm. ....." No explanation for the abrasions was given by claimant.

The State called Lieutenant Timothy Mitchell, an employee of the Department of Correctional Services for over 17 years, having worked at Mid-State for over 16 years. Lieutenant Mitchell worked the 3:00 to 11:00 p.m., shift on November 1, 1997, and was assigned to building "A." Mitchell conducted a housekeeping inspection between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. that day and found nothing wrong with the stairs. He was specifically looking for conditions which needed cleaning. He also conducted an investigation into claimant's accident shortly thereafter and saw nothing hazardous on the stairs. Inmate porters cleaned the stairs during the 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. shift or as needed at any other time. Had he seen any dirty or dangerous condition, the Lieutenant would have a supervisor send the porters to clean it immediately.

Lieutenant Mitchell testified that on occasions in the past, supervisors had requested that the stairway be cleaned of dirt and dried mud tracked in by inmates as they came inside. Because it was a minimum security facility, inmates in "A" building were allowed to move to and from the yard during recreation hours without supervision. On Saturday, November 1, 1997, the recreation hours were 1:00 to 3:30 p.m., according to Mitchell. This differed from claimant's testimony that he was called out for a "rec run" at about 6:00 p.m.
Kevin Endres, a Correction Officer, also testified on behalf of the State. Mr. Endres has been a correction officer and for approximately eight years, and his title is Fire and Safety II. During those eight years he has not received any complaints regarding the stairs in "A" building, nor is he aware of any injuries on those stairs prior to those of claimant. However, Mr. Endres is not in charge of the porters, nor is he made aware if and when they cleaned the stairs.

The plant supervisor for Mid-State, Keith Rosa, also testified. His duties are to maintain the premises and institute necessary repairs to the buildings. Building "A" was built between 1928 and 1935. The building had housed a mental institution prior to its use as a correctional facility. Mr. Rosa testified he never received any complaints regarding the stairs in that building. No request for maintenance or repair was ever received regarding the stairs from January 1997 through the date of trial. Mr. Rosa would not be aware of any temporary condition, such as water, on the stairs.

The parties stipulated that if the State had called Grace Ann DiMaggio, the nurse administrator at Mid-State at the time of claimant's accident, she would have testified to what was contained in the claimant's medical records. Specifically, claimant refused certain follow-up treatments and medications, and that he was involved in two altercations with other inmates after his fall.

It is doubtful that the claimant was injured as he alleges. The Court is hard pressed to find that when claimant slipped on the rubber coated stairs while holding the handrail, his body spun down and to the right in such a manner and with such force that the left side of his jaw was severely fractured. Claimant's credibility was called into question by the discrepancy between his deposition and trial testimony regarding what day of the week he received his injury, as well as the discrepancies between his testimony and that of the other witnesses. However, even if the accident occurred as claimed, the claimant has failed to prove the State had knowledge or notice of a dangerous condition existing on the stairs for a sufficient period of time to allow defendant to rectify it. (
Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836) In fact, the evidence shows there were no complaints about the condition of the stairs that would warrant repair or involvement of the safety personnel. Also, Mitchell's housekeeping inspection and later his accident investigation revealed no condition that could have caused claimant to slip.
As the Court of Appeals wrote in
Piacquadio v Recine Realty, Corp. (84 NY2d 967), the "‘general awareness' that a dangerous condition may be present is legally insufficient to constitute notice of the particular condition that caused plaintiff's fall...[and] liability could be predicated only on failure of defendants' to remedy the danger presented by the liquid after actual or constructive notice of the condition." (Piacquadio v Recine Realty, Corp, supra at 969; cf., Carlos v New Rochelle Mun. Hous. Auth., 262 AD2d 515; Allen v Brooks, 246 AD2d 438).
Accordingly, the claim is hereby dismissed. Let judgment be entered accordingly.

May 12, 2000
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims