New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GARDNER v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-013-508, Claim No. 95552


Prison inmate is awarded $6,000 for pain and suffering and permanent scaring after he was burned because a steam kettle's safety gear was defective, was known to be defective, and had not been repaired.

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):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: LESLIE STROTH, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 28, 2001

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


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 injuries.

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.


September 28, 2001
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims