New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-010-025, Claim No. 97120


Inmate slip and fall. Claim dismissed due to lack of proof regarding defect and proximate cause.

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):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Vincent Cascio, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 23, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant seeks damages for injuries he allegedly sustained on September 12, 1996 during his incarceration at Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing"). Claimant was using a cane and fell as he attempted to descend a flight of stairs within the facility. Claimant contends that his cane[1] split and that the tip became detached, causing him to fall. He further contends that defendant is liable for his injuries because defendant provided him with the cane after his knee surgery in April and that defendant was negligent in failing to issue claimant a bus pass which would have enabled claimant to avoid descending the particular staircase where the accident occurred. Claimant concedes that, even with a bus pass, he would have necessarily descended four other flights of stairs to reach the bus stop. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.
Claimant testified that he had been experiencing problems with his knee since 1992 and surgery was performed on it in April 1996. The medical staff at Sing Sing issued claimant bus passes that were usually valid for two to three months. A bus pass permitted claimant to use the bus from his housing block to his work assignment as a tutor in the school building. Since 1994, claimant has used the bus to travel to his work assignment. According to claimant, even when his bus pass had lapsed, the corrections officers permitted him to use the bus. Therefore, he never complained of a lapsed bus pass. A bus pass did not eliminate the necessity to use stairs. From his cell, claimant had to descend four flights of stairs, each with 15 steps to reach the ground level. He then had to walk a distance of more than two city blocks to the bus stop.
On September 12, 1996, claimant was walking with a cane.
Claimant attempted to board the bus, but was denied access because he did not have a bus pass. Claimant proceeded on foot. As he descended a flight of stairs, claimant held the railing with his left hand and held the cane in his right hand. Claimant did not recall whether he had placed the cane straight or slanted on the step as he proceeded. Claimant slipped and fell, landing near the bottom of the stairs. After the fall, it was discovered that the cane was split and its rubber tip was detached. He testified that he had been using the cane, without incident, for one to two weeks prior to his fall and that he did not have occasion to inspect the cane prior to his accident.
Dr. Mikulas Halko, a physician at Sing Sing since 1980, testified that he had been treating
claimant for his various orthopedic problems for many years. As reflected in claimant's Ambulatory Health Record (Ex. 9), Halko had prescribed the cane for claimant in May 1996 and renewed the order in July and September. Halko explained that bus passes are a written permit that allow an inmate to ride a van or small bus within the Sing Sing grounds. It enables an inmate to avoid walking long distances where hills and stairs may be encountered. However, an inmate would still be required to walk to and from the bus and would necessarily encounter stairs. Orders for bus passes are written by doctors, physician assistants, or nurses, and cosigned by the Director of the Medical Department. The orders were recorded in an inmate's Ambulatory Health Record.
Claimant's record shows that a bus pass was issued to him on July 18, 1995 and April 3, 1996. On September 3, 1996, Halko wrote "bus pass"[2]
in claimant's record; however, the words were subsequently crossed out by an unidentified individual. There was no explanation for the cross-out and no other reference to a bus pass. Had claimant requested a bus pass between September 3rd and September 12th, the date of the accident, it would have been noted in his record. The absence of any notation indicated to Halko that claimant had not made any such request.
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 if 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 his claim claimant must show: the existence of a foreseeable 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). Where an inmate fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course of conduct, the inmate is required to take some responsibility for his own negligence (see, Carter v State of New York, 194 AD2d 967; Hicks v State of New York, 124 AD2d 949).
Claimant argues that the strongest of negative inferences should be drawn against defendant for its failure to preserve the cane as evidence. Even upon such inference, the Court finds that there is insufficient other evidence to establish claimant's burden. Significantly, claimant had used the cane, without incident, for weeks and had not noticed any defect. Certainly, claimant had the greatest incentive and opportunity to observe any apparent defect and claimant was bound to see that which could have been observed by a proper use of his senses (see, Doyle v State of New York, 271 AD2d 394, 395). Claimant, however, did not report any noticeable defect with the cane prior to his accident. Accordingly, there is no basis for finding that the cane was defective or that defendant had any notice that the cane may have been defective.
With regard to the bus pass, the Court finds that the credible evidence failed to establish that any negligence attributable to
defendant was a proximate cause of claimant's accident. First, claimant, who had several other claims pending in the Court of Claims, is familiar with the process of making complaints regarding his treatment within the correctional system; yet he did nothing about his purported need for a bus pass. Moreover, it is noted that, even if claimant had a valid pass on the date in issue, he still would have had necessarily descended several flights of stairs and walked a long distance to reach the bus stop. Thus, the Court rejects claimant's argument regarding the impact of not having a valid bus pass on the date in issue and the Court finds that such failure was not a proximate cause of his accident.
Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now GRANTED. All other motions not previously ruled upon are denied.


March 23, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Defendant failed to produce the cane at trial.
[2]All quotations are to the trial notes or audio tapes unless otherwise indicated.