New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

COOK v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-010-015, Claim No. 97088-A


Synopsis


Inmate slip and fall. Hot water faucet negligence not established.

Case Information

UID:
2001-010-015
Claimant(s):
CLEOPATRA COOK
Claimant short name:
COOK
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
97088-A
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
HUNTER AND ASSOCIATESBy: Edwin Camacho, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Vincent Cascio, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 20, 2001
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant seeks damages for injuries that she allegedly sustained on November 17, 1995 and December 18, 1995 while she was incarcerated at Taconic Correctional Facility ("Taconic"). The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.
This claim involves two separate incidents. The first occurred on November 17, 1995.
Claimant testified that on that day, she was in her cell at Taconic while maintenance personnel had been repairing the heat and hot water in her housing unit. Due to the work in progress, the water had been turned off in the sink in her cell. After the task was completed, claimant was advised that she could resume use of her sink. According to claimant, she turned on the faucet; heard a bubbling noise; and hot water "popped out,"[1] hitting her in the face. She received immediate attention and was taken to the clinic.
Claimant's second mishap involves a slip and fall on December 18, 1995.
Claimant testified that she had been playing cards and then returned to her cell when other inmates had to fulfill their daily assignment and clean the public areas of her housing unit. Claimant was aware that the floor had been mopped when she decided to leave her cell to visit another inmate. She noticed that the floor, which was gray cement, was damp. Claimant testified that she "paid the dampness no mind" as she proceeded to walk approximately 12 feet on the wet floor before falling in a puddle which she described as seven inches in diameter. On cross-examination, she was confronted with her examination before trial testimony that she had walked 25 to 35 feet before she had fallen. At trial, claimant conceded that her memory was "very bad now" since she has had a heart attack and was on medication for various ailments.
According to claimant, inmates always walked on wet floors and she thought that, due to her rubber-soled shoes, she could safely walk on the damp floor as she had done in the past. She stated that there were wet floor signs stored in a closet, but that they were never used; she conceded that the signs were unnecessary if the water was visible.
It is well established that "[t]he State just as any other party *** is responsible, in the operation and management of its schools, hospitals and other institutions, only for hazards reasonably to be foreseen, only for risks reasonably to be perceived." (
Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342, 346) and with respect to the safety of persons on its property, the duty of the State is one of reasonable care under the circumstances (see, Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 513; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233,241).
The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of its premises and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the happening of an accident (
see, Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850, 851; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874). In order to prevail on her claim, claimant must show: the existence of a foreseeably dangerous condition; that the State created the condition or had either actual or constructive notice of the condition; that the State failed to remedy the condition within a reasonable time; that such condition was a proximate cause of claimant's accident; and that claimant sustained damages (see, Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836; Ligon v Waldbaum, Inc., 234 AD2d 347; Mercer v City of New York, 223 AD2d 688, affd. 88 NY2d 955).
Upon listening to claimant testify and observing her demeanor as she did so, the Court finds that the credible evidence failed to establish claimant's burden of proof with regard to either incident. First, with regard to the faucet incident,
claimant was not credible. Moreover, claimant failed to establish that defendant had either actual or constructive notice of the alleged excessively hot water and then failed to address such condition within a reasonable time (cf., Daughtery v City of New York, 137 AD2d 441, 444 [where defendant had constructive notice based upon evidence that the water had been excessively hot for "many months" prior to the incident and the boiler and pipes were in "substantial disrepair"]).
Second, with regard to claimant's slip and fall, the evidence established that claimant's own negligence was the sole proximate cause of her fall. She was bound to see that which was there to be seen (
see, Johnston v State of New York, 127 AD2d 980, 981) and she admittedly knew that the floor was wet. Nonetheless, she "paid the dampness no mind" and continued to walk on the wet floor for a minimum of 12 feet before falling. She testified that inmates always walked on wet floors and she thought she could do so without incident because she was wearing rubber-soled shoes. Unfortunately for claimant, she was mistaken. However, there is no basis for holding defendant liable for her wanton disregard of what should have been an obvious risk (see, Paulo v Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., 233 AD2d 380).
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 97088-A.

February 20, 2001
White Plains, New York

HON. TERRY JANE RUDERMAN
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1] All quotations are to the trial notes or audio tapes unless otherwise indicated.