New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SPANNAGEL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-015-541, Claim No. 100183


Synopsis


Claimant failed to establish State liability for fall on recently mopped floor at correctional facility's medical unit where traffic cone was outside the door to the area in which she fell and wet conditions of floor was readily observable as was presence of inmate with mop and bucket.

Case Information

UID:
2001-015-541
Claimant(s):
CAROL SPANNAGEL
Claimant short name:
SPANNAGEL
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
100183
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
Francis T. Collins
Claimant's attorney:
Lewis & Stanzione, EsquiresBy: Ralph C. Lewis, Esquire
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Michele M. Walls, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 24, 2001
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Trial of this matter was held on June 14, 2001 to determine the State's liability for personal injuries sustained by the claimant when she slipped and fell on March 9, 1999 while employed as a nurse's aide at the Coxsackie Regional Medical Unit, a part of the Coxsackie Correctional Facility (CCF) located in Coxsackie, New York.

Although there were no eyewitnesses to claimant's fall, in addition to her own testimony she offered at trial the testimony of Supervising Housekeeper Katherine Duncan and Correction Officer Harry Wilson both of whom were on duty in the facility's long-term care unit when the accident occurred.[1]
Claimant also offered in evidence a transcript of the examination before trial of Correction Officer Paul Yamin.
Katherine Duncan testified that as part of her duties as housekeeping supervisor she supervises four inmates who clean the floor of the medical unit. On the day of this incident the witness heard crying from the staff lounge in the unit and upon arriving there saw the claimant on the floor in the company of Correction Officer Wilson and inmate porter Cheatham. She testified that the lounge floor was wet and that it had recently been mopped by the inmate porter who was present inside the staff lounge upon her arrival and had with him a large silver bucket. Although the witness admitted that she trained inmate porters regarding CCF mopping procedure she could not recall having trained Cheatham. She testified that the staff lounge where claimant fell had two entry doors and that pursuant to the facility's mopping procedure cones should have been placed in the middle of the doors to alert people. She alleged that at the time of claimant's fall there were no cones in either doorway of the staff lounge and that the nearest cone was observed some fifteen feet away in the day room doorway. The witness described the staff lounge floor as having dark blue tiles which appear very dark when wet and that she knew immediately upon entering the area that the floor was wet. Duncan indicated that inmate porter Cheatham generally followed a progressive pattern each day in mopping the medical unit using a plain silver bucket. On redirect examination the witness testified that she did not hear an alarm prior to claimant's fall but stated that such alarms continuously sound on the floor of the facility.

The claimant's second witness was Correction Officer Harry Wilson who indicated that he had been employed at CCF for 20 years and that on the date of this incident was working on the long-term care floor of the medical unit. He testified that prior to her accident the claimant was standing at his desk engaged in conversation when an alarm sounded. He saw claimant go through the staff lounge doorway. He next saw claimant in a sitting position crying on the lounge floor. The witness testified that the floor of the lounge was damp or wet and that he did not observe any cones or signs in the area between his desk and the staff lounge. On cross-examination the witness conceded that in a written report (Exhibit 2) which he prepared relative to this accident he indicated that there was a safety cone outside the lounge entry door against the wall. The witness testified that the blue tile floor appeared darker than usual and showed signs of wetness. He estimated that claimant was approximately 75-80% through the lounge at the time of her fall.

The claimant offered in evidence the transcript of an examination before trial of another correction officer, Paul Yamin, and an incident report prepared by Yamin, both of which were received in evidence without objection.

Claimant testified that she was a certified nurse's aide for ten years and had been employed in that capacity at CCF for two years prior to her March 1999 accident. She testified that she was regularly assigned to the long-term care unit (LTC2) and usually worked the 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. shift. Claimant testified that immediately prior to the accident she was speaking to Correction Officer Wilson when an alarm sounded. She moved to the staff lounge doorway and observed a red (emergency) light flashing on the other side of the lounge. She then proceeded through the lounge in what she described as a brisk manner and was about half-way through the lounge when she fell. Claimant admitted that she observed an inmate porter with a mop and bucket but alleged that he issued no warning to her regarding the wet condition of the floor. She alleged further that she saw no cones or other warning signs at the entry to the staff lounge and noticed the floor's shininess only as she fell.

On cross-examination claimant reiterated that when she entered the lounge she saw the inmate porter and noted that he had a bucket and mop. She further admitted that earlier that day she observed inmates mopping the hallways of the unit. The claimant admitted that at the time of her fall she was not looking at the floor.

At the conclusion of claimant's cross-examination the claimant rested. The defendant called no witnesses before resting.

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). 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 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, a claimant must show: the existence of a foreseeably dangerous condition; that the State created 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).
It is equally well established, as the Third Department noted in
Thornhill v Toys "R" Us NYTEX, 183 AD2d 1071, 1072, that:
Encompassed within this duty is the duty to warn of potential dangerous conditions existing therein, be they natural or artificial (see, Basso v Miller, supra; Restatement [Second] of Torts § 342). This duty extends, however, only to those conditions they are not readily observable; the landowner owes no duty to warn of conditions that are in plain view, easily discoverable 'by those employing the reasonable use of their senses' (Tarricone v State of New York,175 AD2d 308, 309, lv denied 78 NY2d 862), for in such instances the condition is a warning in itself (see, supra; Schiller v Woolworth Co., 51 AD2d 784, 785, appeal dismissed 39 NY2d 901; Powers v Montgomery Ward &Co., 251 App. Div. 120, 122, affd 276 NY600).

In the instant case claimant has attempted to predicate liability upon the State's failure to place a cone in or near the doorway to the staff lounge warning claimant of the wet floor. There is, however, credible proof in the form of Correction Officer Wilson's memorandum that "a safety cone was sitting outside the lounge, next to the door against the wall." There was also proof that the floors were mopped each day in a routine progression; that the blue floor tiles inside the lounge appeared darker when wet and that their wet condition was readily discernable at the time of the claimant's fall; that the claimant saw the inmate porter inside the lounge with a mop and bucket and that the claimant had traversed most of the length of the lounge prior to her accident.

Although the claimant was responding to an emergency or call alarm at the time of the accident, the proof established that such alarms were a common occurrence on the long-term care floor. Based upon the proof presented at trial the Court concludes that a cone was, in fact, properly placed outside the staff lounge doorway on the date of claimant's accident. Even had such not been the case, the claimant failed to heed the clear and readily observable signs that the floor was wet and that mopping had taken place. The claimant has, therefore, failed to establish liability on the part of the defendant and the claim must be dismissed.

The Clerk of the Court should enter judgment accordingly.


September 24, 2001
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]Neither party provided the court with a trial transcript, the representation of the trial testimony is therefore based upon the court's notes taken at trial.