New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MITCHELL v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-018-050, Claim No. 96998


Motion by defendant to dismiss claim at conclusion of trial is granted. Claimant failed to prove negligence.

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: PATRICIA BORDONARO, ESQUIRE Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 5, 2000

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant testified that on June 23, 1997, while a prisoner at the Riverview Correctional Facility, he was injured while getting down from the top bunk in his cube. Claimant alleged the State was negligent for failing to provide a ladder or a safeguard. Admitted into evidence is claimant's Exhibit 1, a diagram of the cube showing the positioning of the four lockers, the bunk beds, and a chair. Claimant testified there were three ways to get in to and out of the top bunk; by standing on one of the two large lockers contained in the cube, or by using the chair. Claimant further testified that he had suffered injuries to his back, knee, and ankle from his fall. As a result of the injuries, claimant wears braces on both his knee and ankle, has a back-brace, and has since been issued a permit for a cane. Claimant is currently scheduled to see an orthopedic surgeon for his injuries. He had no prior injuries to any of these areas of his body except for a complaint regarding back pain which he made shortly before this incident. Claimant opines this prior back pain was attributable to his mattress because the man who used the bunk prior to him was much heavier and the mattress had sunken in. He was issued a back board for his bed and that apparently alleviated claimant's prior back pain.

Claimant attempted to put into evidence an affidavit of one Calvin Green, who was a witness to the incident. The Court would not allow the affidavit due to the hearsay nature of the information contained therein. Claimant was allowed to amend his claim to remove the allegations that the State acted with deliberate indifference and to change the allegations to assert gross negligence on the part of the State by its failure to provide a ladder to access the bunk beds.[1]

At no time since claimant's arrival at Riverview (April 3, 1997), through the date of the accident, was he instructed on how to properly get in to or out of the bunk bed which was approximately six feet from the ground. He described the chair on which he was attempting to stand at the time of the accident as hard plastic with metal legs. Claimant indicated at the time of the accident there were no caps on the chair legs to prevent it from sliding. The accident occurred at 6:45 p.m., and although while not sure what he was wearing on his feet, claimant believes he was barefoot since he had been taking a nap. Claimant describes the accident, testifying that he had his hands on the top bunk and one foot on the chair when the chair slipped. His foot then slipped off the chair and the chair tipped over. He claims he has a permanent mark on his shin from hitting the chair.

On cross-examination, the attorney general asked whether or not there were slats across the foot of the bunk beds to assist in climbing to and from. There are not any such slats; the footboard of each bed is solid. Claimant, also stated he had made no complaints to the facility or the correction officers regarding the difficulty he claimed he had in getting up and down from the top bunk, and he had used the chair on numerous occasions in getting up and down in the past. Received as Exhibit A was the report of inmate injury which indicated the claimant had fallen off the bunk bed and struck his back and foot. He was prescribed Motrin and apparently has continued on a course of Ibuprofen since the injury.

The State made a motion to dismiss at the end of claimant's case. That motion is now GRANTED. The statement of claimant that the filing of the claim was notice to the defendant sufficient to warrant the finding of negligence is legally incorrect. In order to succeed on the theory that the State was negligent, or grossly negligent for failing to provide a ladder or other safety device to access an upper bunk bed instead of a locker or chair, there must be evidence that the State was on notice that the inmate had some type of impairment which would affect his ability to use the upper bunk bed. (
See, Taylor v State of New York, Ct. Cl., J. Collins, filed April 28, 1998, Cl. No. 92111; Marino v United States of America, 978 F.2d 1263 [8th Cir]; cf., Mossman v Albany Medical Center Hosp., 34 AD2d 263) Claimant did not provide any such evidence. In fact, claimant did not even provide any notice to the State that he had any difficulty accessing his upper bunk bed. Claimant did not request a lower bunk, nor did he complain to facility personnel of his need for another means of access to the top bunk. Since claimant has failed to meet the burden to prove even simple negligence, there is no basis to find gross negligence, which requires a showing of complete disregard for the safety of others. (PJI2:10A)

October 5, 2000
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Although the amendment to gross negligence allows the Court to consider conduct of a reckless nature in addition to the wilful misconduct asserted by the allegation of the deliberate indifference, under the circumstances presented here, the change was primarily one of semantics.