New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

NURSE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-010-070, Claim No. 99487


State van stopped suddenly causing unseatbelted inmate to sustain injury. Defendant 100 percent liable.

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:
By: Heather Julien, Esq. Alfred Laub, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: John Healey, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 5, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant seeks damages for injuries she sustained on November 13, 1996 during her incarceration at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility ("Bedford").
Claimant was transported in a facility van, along with five other inmates, from Saint Agnes Hospital ("St. Agnes") to Bedford. Claimant was not seatbelted and sustained injury when the van stopped suddenly and claimant was thrust forward, hitting the seat in front of her. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.
Claimant was assigned to the second seat in the van. Claimant's hands were cuffed in front of her body and chained to her waist. She also had leg shackles. Claimant testified that she was not seatbelted, nor could she fasten her seatbelt without assistance.
According to claimant, the van stopped suddenly; the back of the van became elevated; and claimant was thrown forward. Claimant stated that she heard a "big bang" and she was slammed into the front seat.[1]
Correction Officer Cheryl Jackson, the assigned escort officer, testified that she was responsible for insuring that the inmates were seatbelted. She stated that sometimes inmates fastened their own seatbelts, which she maintained could be done even if they were restrained. She did not, however, contend that inmates should seatbelt themselves. Jackson did not observe whether or not
claimant was seatbelted.
Correction Officer Alexander Cheney, the transport officer, testified that he drove the van and was armed. He did not have any direct contact with the inmates and was not responsible for insuring that the inmates were seatbelted. Cheney testified that he had "probably" driven the van before the day of the accident and, assuming that he had, he had not experienced any difficulty with the vehicle. He did not testify to any routine maintenance, if any, that was undertaken to ensure that the vehicle's brakes were in good working order.

Cheney testified that he did not have any problem with the brakes during his drive from Bedford to St. Agnes. However, when he started to leave the parking lot at St. Agnes to return to Bedford, the brakes on the van "gave out." Cheney applied pressure again and again to the brakes, but they did not respond. He then pressed "very hard" on the brakes and the van dipped forward and the rear became elevated (Ex. 2). The inmates were bounced around inside the van.

New York State Department of Corrections Unusual Incident Report indicates that the van was towed from the scene to the dealer (Ex. A). The dealer found "L/R WHEEL CYLINDER LEAKING" and replaced "L/R WHEEL CYLINDER" and "L&R REAR BRAKE SHOES" (Ex. D).

Defendant contends that the brake failure was unanticipated and that
defendant exercised reasonable care to keep the brakes in good working order (see, Suitor v Boivin, 219 AD2d 799, 800; O'Callaghan v Flitter, 112 AD2d 1030, 1031). "[W]here the operator of the moving vehicle alleges that the accident was the result of brake failure and presents evidence that the brake problem was unanticipated, and that reasonable care had been exercised to keep the brakes in good working order, he or she has demonstrated a nonnegligent explanation for the happening of the accident" (Schuster v Amboy Bus. Co., 267 AD2d 448, 448-49). In Liana v Atacil Contr., 212 AD2d 673, the Second Department held that the accident was due to the sudden and unexpected brake failure of defendant's dump truck. The Court noted that defendant presented evidence that the dump truck, including the brakes, was inspected annually and that the last inspection was conducted eight months to a year prior to the accident. Additionally, the Court noted that the driver testified that the brakes were operating perfectly until minutes before the accident, giving the driver "no reason to have suspected the brakes of imminent malfunction" (Id. At 674).
In the instant case,
the evidence was insufficient to establish that defendant exercised reasonable care to insure that the brakes were in good working order. In fact, there was no testimony as to what maintenance, if any, was undertaken regarding the brakes, and the documentary evidence submitted does not refer to any inspection or service of the brakes. Additionally, the credible evidence was lacking as to the alleged sudden and unanticipated brake failure. Significantly absent from the testimony offered at trial was the extent and duration of the leak from the brake cylinder. Accordingly, the Court finds that defendant has not demonstrated a nonnegligent explanation for the happening of the accident (see, Schuster v Amboy Bus. Co., supra). Rather, defendant was negligent in its failure to maintain the brakes and to take notice of the leaking cylinder prior to the accident. In any event, whether or not the brake failure was unanticipated, an independent basis for holding defendant 100 percent liable for the injuries claimant sustained in the accident is defendant's failure to insure that claimant was seatbelted, despite defendant's acknowledgment of such duty.
Upon filing of this Decision, the Court will set the matter down for a trial on the issue of damages as soon as practicable.


September 5, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

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