This is a claim for personal injuries suffered by Derek Jefferson based upon
claimant's alleged slip, fall and resulting injuries at Auburn Correctional
Facility. A trial to determine liability was held on January 8, 2001, at the
Court of Claims in Syracuse, New York.
Claimant testified at trial that at approximately 7:00 p.m., on June 2, 1998,
while he was an inmate at Auburn Correctional Facility, he was descending stairs
from the third floor of his cell block en route to the prison recreation yard in
order to participate in an exercise session. Claimant testified he slipped on
one of the stairs, and that his left knee buckled as he attempted to descend the
staircase, causing him to lose his balance and fall backward. As he was
falling, claimant was able to grab a stair rail and wire mesh, which was on the
side of the stairwell, thereby preventing himself from falling completely on his
backside. As he attempted to regain his balance, claimant also struck his left
knee with a bag which he was carrying that contained his exercise equipment and
a safety padlock. Claimant further testified that immediately after his fall,
he noticed water on the stairs.
It is claimant's position that the State is responsible for his slip and
resulting injuries. He claims that the staircase in question had been recently
mopped and water had remained on the stairs, causing that stairway to be
slippery and as a result, claimant lost his balance and sustained his injuries.
At the trial the only other individual whose testimony indicated that there was
water on the floor was the deposition testimony of a fellow inmate, Joshua
A number of State correctional facility employees testified that there was no
record indicating that the stairway in question had in fact been mopped prior
to the injury, nor did any of the witnesses have any personal recollection that
the stairs had been mopped immediately before claimant fell. Further testimony
of these witnesses established that the normal procedure at the facility was to
release inmates for evening activities before commencing clean up activities,
including the mopping of stairways.
When it acts as a property owner, the State is held to the same standard of
care as any private landowner (
Basso v Miller
, 40 NY2d 233; Preston v State of New York
, 59 NY2d
997). The State must act as a reasonable person in maintaining its property in
a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the
likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury and the burden of
avoiding the risk (Miller v State of New York
, 62 NY2d 506). Such
standard of care applies to the premises within prison facilities (Bowers v
State of New York
, 241 AD2d 760; Condon v State of New York
, 193 AD2d
874). But the State is not an insurer, and negligence may not be inferred
solely from the happening of an accident (Tripoli v State of New York
AD2d 823; Mochen v State of New York
, 57 AD2d 719). To prevail on his
claim, claimant must establish by a fair preponderance of the evidence that the
State breached its duty of care by (1) creating, or having actual or
constructive notice of, a foreseeable dangerous condition; and (2) failing to
take steps to correct, or at least neutralize, the dangerous condition within a
reasonable time. Constructive notice applies if a defect is visible and
apparent, and had existed for a sufficient period of time for the defendant to
discover and remedy the condition before the accident occurred (Gordon v
American Museum of Natural History
, 67 NY2d 836).
In this claim, claimant maintains that the State created an unsafe and
dangerous condition through the actions of its correction officers in directing
inmates and porters to mop the stairs, and supervising this activity.
Furthermore, claimant also maintains that the State failed to place signs in
this location warning of the slippery condition. Additionally, it is claimant's
position that the State should be charged with constructive notice, even if the
Court finds that the State did not create the slippery condition on the stairs.
In this claim, however, claimant did not establish that the wet and slippery
condition on the stairs was created by any actions of State officers or
employees. There was no testimony or direct proof that any mopping of the
stairway in question had occurred prior to this incident. None of the
correction officers who testified had any recollection that mopping activities
had begun prior to the release of inmates into the recreation yard.
Furthermore, both claimant and Mr. Rosner (through his deposition testimony)
testified that they did not observe any such activities prior to claimant's
fall. As a result, the Court finds that claimant has not met his burden of
establishing that the State created the slippery condition which caused him to
slip and fall. Furthermore, claimant has not established that defendant had any
direct knowledge that correction officers were aware of the slippery condition
prior to the incident. Without this direct knowledge, defendant cannot be held
responsible for failing to place warning signs in the immediate area.
Additionally, claimant did not establish that this condition had existed for a
period of time
prior to the incident sufficient to charge defendant with constructive
notice of a dangerous condition.
Claimant has also argued that the Court should find liability against the State
based upon the doctrine of
res ipsa loquitur
. In New York, the following elements must be
established in order for this doctrine to apply: 1) the event must be of a kind
which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence; 2) it
must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of
the defendant; and 3) it must not have been due to any voluntary action or
contribution on the part of the plaintiff (see, Dermatossian v New York City
, 67 NY2d 219). Only when all of these elements are
established can this doctrine be applied.
From the testimony elicited at this trial, claimant did not present sufficient
evidence to establish that the State was responsible for the existence of water
on the stairway. Although the State obviously is in control of its prison
facilities, it does not have exclusive control of the stairway in question,
which is utilized by numerous inmates for ingress and egress. Furthermore, a
slip and fall on a stairway can be caused by a number of factors, including
inattentiveness or negligence of the claimant himself. It is therefore clearly
inappropriate to consider the application of the
res ipsa loquitur
doctrine to the fact pattern of this claim.
Accordingly, the Court finds that after carefully considering all of the
evidence presented at trial, this claim must fail.
Claim No. 100127 is therefore DISMISSED.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.