New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-005-016, Claim No. 93906


Claimant failed to establish a prima facie case that Defendant negligently failed to properly instruct, warn and supervise him, or negligently failed to properly maintain an ironworker. Accordingly, Claimant's claim was dismissed.

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:
Law Offices of Anne AdamsBy: Anne Adams, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: James L. Gelormini, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 31, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The claim arose on February 2, 1996, when the Claimant, Charles R. Williams, sustained a severe crush injury to his left hand while operating an "ironworker" machine at Wyoming Correctional Facility (Wyoming) where he was incarcerated. Claimant alleges that Defendant failed to properly train, warn and supervise him, failed to properly maintain the ironworker, and failed to provide him with a reasonably safe place to work. This decision addresses only the issue of liability as the trial was bifurcated.

Bienvenido Perez, a fellow inmate at Wyoming, testified that on the day of the incident, he was in the welding shop cutting steel. Perez testified that an inmate had to be assigned to the welding shop for a time and be trained before being assigned a particular task, such as cutting steel. Perez had received some training in welding before being incarcerated and then trained with Timothy Maksymick, the civilian instructor in the welding shop, employed by the Defendant. Perez, like all other inmates, was initially trained on the welding machines. Once he became proficient in the use of all types of welding machines, he was then trained on the ironworker.

At the time of the incident, Perez was working on another machine about twenty feet away, with his back to the ironworker. His attention was drawn to the ironworker when he heard the machine turn on. He turned around and saw Claimant with his left hand in the wrong area of the machine. Perez hollered to Claimant and asked him what he was doing. When Claimant did not respond, he ran over to the ironworker to try to pull Claimant's leg off the floor pedal which activated the machine. By the time he reached the ironworker, Claimant's hand was being crushed.

Perez had been trained by Maksymick on this particular ironworker at Wyoming. It was the only ironworker he had ever operated. Perez did testify, however, that he had seen another ironworker machine at Groveland Correctional Facility (Groveland), and that that machine, unlike the one at Wyoming, had protective guards. He further testified that Maksymick instructed him that without the protective guard, one had to be very careful when using the ironworker.

Perez was involved with the training of new inmates as a mentor. He would assist by showing new inmates how to use the cutting torch, the ironworker, the shearer and other machines. Maksymick was generally in the shop whenever Perez would be training new inmates. Perez and three other inmates were authorized to use the ironworker. Claimant was not. According to Perez, Claimant did not ask him on the day of the incident to operate the ironworker for him, and he had never given Claimant permission to use the ironworker.

After the incident, Perez talked to Maksymick about the incident. Maksymick then prepared a handwritten account of the incident which Perez signed (Exhibit I). According to this account, Perez told Claimant not to use the ironworker. Perez testified that Maksymick was not in the welding shop at the time of the incident, was out in the hallway, and only came back into the shop after the incident had occurred.

Claimant testified that he was in the vocational shop being trained in welding on the day of his accident. In the morning, he attended some welding classes and then proceeded to work on an arc welder. After lunch, Claimant needed more steel cut for his welding work, and purportedly he asked Maksymick if he could use the ironworker. Initially, Claimant testified that he couldn't recall Maksymick's response, but later averred that Maksymick told him that someone with experience had to be present if he was going to use the ironworker.

Claimant then testified that he asked Perez to show him how to use the ironworker. Perez told him that he could cut the steel himself, but only while Perez was standing there because Perez had more experience with the ironworker.

This was the first time Claimant had ever used this machine. According to his early testimony, the ironworker was already on and all he had to do was insert the metal and push the floor pedal. Later, however, he testified that Perez actually turned the machine on and handed him a piece of steel. Claimant testified that Perez walked away before he pushed the floor pedal and was about fifteen to twenty feet away at the time of the accident. Claimant denied that Perez gave him any instruction in the operation of the ironworker.

Claimant testified that he placed the steel in the cutting area of the machine. Almost simultaneously he pushed the floor pedal and placed his left hand on the small metal square below the hydraulic arm of the machine. He admitted that he was familiar with the machine from watching other inmates use it and knew prior to the accident that activation of the floor pedal caused the hydraulic arm to descend and hit the small metal square which, in turn, caused the blade to cut the steel.

At the time of the incident, Claimant testified that there were no protective shields or warning labels on the ironworker. He admitted, however, that he did not know whether any were supposed to be on the machine.

According to Claimant, Maksymick was not in the shop at the time of his accident. This was based on his belief that Maksymick would have come to his aid immediately had he been in the shop. Chaos ensued after the accident. One of the other inmates left the shop to get the correction officer stationed in the hallway outside the shop. Claimant testified that approximately five minutes elapsed between the time he screamed and the time when he saw Maksymick.

When asked if he was aware that he was not authorized to use the ironworker, Claimant responded: "Why would I not be authorized to use the machine in my welding shop?" Claimant did admit, however, that he needed supervision to use the machine. Claimant was aware that Perez had experience with the ironworker and testified that Perez was in the room when he was using the machine.

Before being transferred to Wyoming, Claimant had been incarcerated at Midstate Correctional Facility (Midstate). While at Midstate, Claimant was assigned to the vocational shop for welding. Upon his transfer to Wyoming, Claimant requested that he be assigned to the vocational shop. Claimant was assigned to do welding at Wyoming and was trained in welding by Maksymick. Claimant received no training on the ironworker, and the only task he was assigned to do prior to the accident was welding. According to Claimant, Maksymick never asked him to use the ironworker or told him that he could not use the ironworker. Claimant also testified that Maksymick did talk to the entire group of inmates regarding the dangers of the ironworker.

Claimant testified that he was part of a group of new inmates who received orientation to the vocational shop by Maksymick, including an explanation of the safety rules in general. At the conclusion of the orientation, Claimant and the other inmates were asked to sign a sheet (Exhibit D) entitled "Inmate Safety Program" which outlined the safety rules for the shop, including Rule 15 which states: "No power equipment is to be used without the specific permission of the instructor." According to Claimant, Maksymick never told him that he could not use equipment without permission. Rather, Claimant testified that he was told that he should have an experienced person with him if he wanted to use a machine on which he had little experience. When asked if it was his understanding that he could use any machine in the shop, he responded: "Why wouldn't I be able to? I'm a student." Later he admitted that this statement was based on his assumption that as a student he could use any machine in the shop.

During his trial testimony, Claimant was unsure if Maksymick specifically explained all of the rules on Exhibit D before asking the inmates to sign it. During his deposition, however, he stated that all of the rules were explained to him before he signed the sheet. Prior to the incident, Claimant did not believe that Maksymick ever counseled him about not following safety rules. Claimant denied breaking any safety rules.

After the incident, Claimant was charged with failing to follow a direct order and failing to follow safety rules, and went to a hearing before a disciplinary officer, where he was found guilty of both charges. When asked if he violated a direct order from Maksymick not to use the ironworker, Claimant testified: "I may have; I may not have."

Claimant reiterated his testimony that Maksymick told him that someone with experience had to be present if he was going to use the ironworker, and this is why he allegedly asked Perez for help. Claimant admitted, however, that he used his own common sense based on his ability and training to determine for himself what was right or wrong after receiving instruction from Maksymick.

Correction Officer (CO) Parmeter, the fire and safety officer, investigated the incident within a half hour of its occurrence and took photographs of the machine. CO Parmeter testified that, at the time of his investigation the machine had two warning labels on it. The first warning was contained on a sticker regarding the operation of the machine and warned the user not to place any body parts within close proximity. There was a second warning label in Spanish.

Maksymick, the civilian vocational instructor at Wyoming, testified that he began working for the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) in 1984, and one year later came to Wyoming as the first vocational instructor in the new vocational program.

Maksymick credibly testified that it was his custom and practice to orientate every new inmate by reviewing the shop rules, by walking around the shop, and by advising each new inmate that he could not use any machine until he had been trained on it and Maksymick had given permission. According to Maksymick, he would have orientated Claimant and reviewed with him all of the rules set forth on Exhibit D, including the specific rules about not operating equipment without the permission of the instructor. By custom and practice, he would have asked Claimant if he understood the rules and if he had any questions. Typically, at the end of the orientation, the inmate and Maksymick would both sign the safety rules, and here both Claimant and Maksymick did so (Exhibit D).

Claimant's first assignment in the vocational shop was shielded metal arc welding. This was the same assignment given to every new inmate. Once the new inmate became proficient with arc welding, he would then be moved up to a new area which could include use of the ironworker. According to Maksymick, Claimant never progressed out of the arc welding assignment and was never instructed in the use and operation of the ironworker. If he had progressed and/or been trained on the ironworker, it would be indicated on Claimant's Education Record (Exhibit C). There were no such notations, according to Maksymick.

On more than one occasion prior to this incident, Maksymick had observed Claimant in the vicinity of the ironworker. On those occasions, Claimant would express interest in using the machine. According to Maksymick, he advised Claimant that he first had to complete arc welding, and then be trained on the ironworker, and finally obtain Maksymick's permission before he could use the machine. About fifteen to twenty minutes before this accident occurred, Maksymick testified that he saw Claimant and Perez by the ironworker. Maksymick approached them and gave Claimant a direct order to stay away from the ironworker because he was not trained on it.

Maksymick testified that an inmate, like Bienvenido Perez, who had been trained on all of the equipment in the shop and who had proven to be proficient in all areas of the shop could be designated as a teacher's aide. However, teacher's aides were not authorized to instruct inmates on the use or operation of a particular machine. It was Maksymick's custom and practice to personally train each inmate in the use of a machine unfamiliar to that inmate. If an inmate was trained by Maksymick on a particular machine, he could operate that machine only if he had Maksymick's permission, and a teacher's aide could oversee the operation.

About fifteen to twenty minutes after giving Claimant a direct order to stay away from the ironworker, Maksymick heard a commotion with a lot of inmates yelling. At the time, he was seated at his desk near the front door of the shop and was on the phone. Fearing that a fight might be occurring, he ran out into the hallway to get the correction officer who was stationed at a desk at the end of the hallway. Immediately after he approached CO Koch in the hallway and told him that there was a problem in the shop, five or six inmates came from the shop into the hallway with Claimant who was holding his hand. Perez advised him that Claimant had used the ironworker and smashed his hand. This was the first time that Maksymick learned that an inmate had been injured.

Because he did not witness the accident, Maksymick asked Perez what had happened and prepared an accident report (Exhibit I) based on the information supplied by Perez. Both of them then signed the report.

Maksymick testified that the ironworker was purchased for the Wyoming welding shop in 1985. He averred under oath that from the time the machine was first purchased until April of 1999, when he left on a disability leave, the ironworker never had a guard or shield for the die on which Claimant's hand was positioned at the time of the accident, and there never were any stickers for the machine instructing a user where or where not to place his hands.

Maksymick denied ever telling Perez to be especially careful using the machine because it was missing a guard, a direct contraction of Perez's assertions. Regardless, according to Maksymick, there never was a guard or shield. Maksymick did testify that he instructed the inmates in the shop who were authorized to use the machine how to properly use the ironworker and to keep their hands away from any moving parts to avoid injury.

Claimant alleges that Defendant negligently failed to train, supervise or warn him of the dangers of the ironworker, and otherwise failed to properly maintain the machine. It is well settled that the State has a duty to provide an inmate who is directed to participate in a work program with reasonably safe machinery and adequate warnings, instruction and supervision for the safe operation of that machinery (
Callahan v State of New York, 19 AD2d 437, affd 14 NY2d 665; Palmisano v State of New York, 47 AD2d 692; Oakley v State of New York, 38 AD2d 998 affd 32 NY2d 773).

The evidence here establishes that Claimant was trained to perform the task that he was directed to do, arc welding. He was not trained on the proper use or operation of the ironworker because he was not authorized to use that machine. According to the shop's procedures, an inmate had to become proficient with arc welding before he could be authorized and trained to use other machinery in the shop, including the ironworker. The evidence established that Claimant had not progressed beyond arc welding during the three months he had been at Wyoming and he had been cautioned to stay away from the ironworker.

The mere happening of an accident, without some showing that the Defendant breached a duty of care to Claimant, does not give rise to liability (
Fitzgerald v State of New York, 28 Misc 2d 283). Here, the Defendant had no duty to train Claimant on a machine he was not ready to use nor authorized to use. Furthermore, it did not undertake the task of even attempting to train him. Claimant's cause of action alleging negligent training must fail.

Claimant's theory of negligent supervision also must be dismissed. He generally argues that when a group of male prisoners are assigned to a room full of machines, it is foreseeable that inmates will try to use the equipment. In essence, Claimant would require the Defendant to provide unremitting supervision of all inmates in every facility because at any moment any inmate could decide to use any machine with or without training or authorization. The Defendant is not and cannot be an insurer of inmate safety (
Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719); nor is it required to provide unremitting supervision (see, Leibach v State of New York, 215 AD2d 978; Oakley v State of New York, 38 AD2d 998, supra, affd 32 NY2d 773). Here, Claimant was injured while using a machine upon which he had no instruction, had not previously used, had no authorization to use, and had been counseled by both Maksymick and Perez not to use. Moreover, Claimant was injured immediately after activating the ironworker for the first time.

Under these circumstances, I conclude that Claimant has failed to meet his burden of proving that the supervision provided was inadequate, whether or not Maksymick was actually in the shop at the precise moment Claimant was injured (
Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342; see also, Oakley v State of New York, 38 AD2d 998, supra, at 999).

Claimant additionally argues that Defendant failed to properly maintain the ironworker in a safe working condition and failed to properly warn Claimant of this condition. During trial, Claimant was adamant that the ironworker was not defective in any manner, and no expert testimony was offered to establish any defect. Rather, Claimant argues that the Defendant negligently failed to maintain the ironworker by failing to preserve a safety guard on or around the die upon which Claimant's hand was resting at the time of the accident, and by failing to preserve stickers warning him of the danger of placing his hand where he did. While there was some limited evidence presented at trial regarding guards and warning stickers, no evidence was presented establishing that the ironworker upon which Claimant was injured came equipped with any guard or with stickers containing Claimant's desired warnings. To the contrary, Maksymick, who was at Wyoming when the vocational shop and the machine were initially set up, testified that if guards or warning stickers had initially come with the machine they would have been placed on the machine. No expert testimony was offered to establish that this ironworker came equipped with a guard or that any holes allegedly visible in the photographs (Exhibits 1 to 6) were to accommodate a guard. The unrefuted testimony was that this machine never had a guard on the die or warning stickers other than the ones seen in the photographs. Defendant cannot be held liable, as Claimant proposes, for failing to preserve a guard or warning stickers, the existence of which was never established.

Moreover, Defendant had no duty to warn Claimant of the danger of placing his hand in the area of a die on a machine he was not authorized to use. And he would not have been so authorized until he was properly trained to operate the machine and where to place his hands. Furthermore, Claimant was aware that the hydraulic arm would descend when he activated the foot pedal and hit the die upon which his hand was resting. There is no duty to warn of a danger which is known to the Claimant (
see generally, DePasquale v Morbark Indus., 221 AD2d 409).

Claimant has failed to meet his burden of proof on any of his causes of action. Accordingly, the claim must be and hereby is dismissed. All motions not heretofore ruled upon are now denied. Let judgment be entered accordingly.

December 31, 2002
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims