On October 12, 1996, at approximately 5:30 a.m., Claimant, an inmate at Wende
Correctional Facility (Wende), suffered first and second degree burns to his
upper right ankle, lower right shin and, lower left shin, as well as minor
burns to both of his wrists when a kettle of hot coffee overturned and spilled
on him. He alleges that as he attempted to turn the kettle to ladle the coffee
into pots to be used by the inmates for their morning meal using the lever or
knob on its side, the gear mechanism which would prevent the kettle from tipping
over failed to engage the lever, causing the spill and the claimed
Claimant filed a grievance (Exhibit 2), and the subsequent investigation
revealed that while no grievance had been filed regarding the condition of the
kettle, nonetheless, the staff was aware of the problem and that repairs were
required, and work order #2740 had been issued. However, the grievance
committee concluded that the condition of the equipment did not constitute a
hazardous condition. Work order #2740 (Exhibit 1), dated October 11, 1996,
reveals that the gears on the second steam kettle did not work.
The unrefuted testimony of Claimant revealed that these steam kettles contain
approximately 60 gallons of liquid when full. In tipping the kettles to pour or
ladle the contents out, a worker must turn a wheel located on the side of the
kettle. The tipping mechanism is controlled by a gear and these gears permit
the operator to tip the kettle in a controlled manner, allowing for the safe and
gradual pouring or ladling out of the contents. How anyone could have concluded
either before or after this incident that the failure of the gears to function
as designed did not constitute a hazardous condition, especially since these
kettles were designed and used as containers for hot liquid, is beyond the ken
of this Court.
It cannot be disputed that the State owes the duty of reasonable care to
inmates confined in its penal institutions
(Casella v State of New York
, 121 AD2d 495). While it is not the insurer
of their safety (Condon v State of New York
, 193 AD2d 874; Killeen v
State of New York
, 66 NY2d 850), it nonetheless has a duty to see that the
equipment it supplies for use by inmates is in good condition and suitable for
its intended use (Martinez v State of New York
, 225 AD2d 877, 878).
The State argued that there was no proof that the kettle for which the work
order was issued was the one which malfunctioned, causing injury to Claimant,
and therefore it had no prior or constructive notice of the defective gear.
Such argument is without merit in light of the findings of the panel charged
with investigating Claimant's grievance. It is clear that they found that the
kettle which tipped over was the same one described in the work order. Nothing
in this record dissuades me from reaching the same conclusion.
Since this conclusion is, in my opinion, inescapable, I find that the State had
notice of the defective condition and had the duty to either remove the kettle
from the line, or at the very least, place a warning or caution sign on it so as
to alert those who were to use it that the gears were not operating properly and
to exercise caution. This is especially so since these kettles were used to
hold very hot liquids, and the Defendant was aware of the manner in which liquid
was poured from the kettle. It is also clear to me from the uncontradicted
testimony of the Claimant that he could not have seen the defect, since the gear
is enclosed in a box-like device, thus not allowing him, or anyone else to
clearly observe the gears.
Claimant was an experienced kitchen worker and had been in this kitchen on many
occasions prior to the accident. He had been exposed to various vessels and the
safe and proper method of extracting their liquid contents. He gained his
knowledge in the various institutions to which he had been confined in the State
system and had extensive experience with kettles of the type that he was using
on the day of the accident. However, even with this experience, he could not be
expected to know that there was a problem with the vessel without either being
verbally warned or receiving some form of written notice.
As previously stated, Claimant suffered second degree burns to his right ankle
and both shins, along with first degree burns to his wrists. When the coffee
spilled out of the kettle, Claimant attempted to move away from the spill but
was unsuccessful. His screaming caught the attention of Correction Officer
Bruce Chapman and several inmates who came to his aid. Chapman recalled that
when he arrived, Claimant was in obvious pain, and when his boots and socks were
removed, Chapman observed blisters and pronounced redness in the areas where
Claimant had been burned by the liquid. He was removed to the infirmary where
he was seen by the nurses on duty at that time. His ankles were treated with
Silvadine ointment and dressed, Vaseline was applied to his wrists, and he was
given Darvocet for pain. He was admitted to the infirmary for observation
during which time the record reflects that his burns were again treated and
dressed. At 9:30 a.m. he was no longer complaining of pain (Exhibit A). He was
released to the block on October 13th with the notation that he was to receive
call out for the next seven days for dressing changes to his ankle and given
Advil for pain.
He returned to the infirmary on October 15th and it was determined that the
area of burn on the right ankle appeared to have become infected. He was
readmitted to the infirmary and remained there for approximately three weeks,
until the infection had subsided. During his stay, the medical record reflects
that he was not only treated for the infection, but that he also received
medication for pain on a regular basis. On November 4th he was discharged back
to the block with the notation that he was to be checked two times a week for
the next two weeks and to soak his feet and apply Silvadine to the affected
areas and to cover the areas with 4 x 4 gauze pads. If he incurred any further
problems, he was to notify staff.
On the day of the trial, Claimant complained of numbness in the area of the
burns and the Court observed a five-inch scar on his right foot and ankle,
running from the side to the center of his foot. His left foot also has a scar
approximately one to two inches in width across the top. These scars are, of
course, permanent. There is no medical evidence that he is continuing to have
pain or any trouble ambulating.
I find that the injuries Claimant suffered will not have any effect on his
ability to engage in any meaningful activity in the future. The Court awards
Claimant the total sum of Six Thousand ($6,000.00) for past pain and suffering
and for permanent scaring, with appropriate interest.
All motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby denied.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.