New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ROWE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK , #2001-028-0015, Claim No. 101543


Synopsis


Defendant was negligent in failing to adequately inspect bed which it assembled and placed in inmate's cube. Inmate, who was required to store items under the bed, sustained a cut, which required suturing to close, reaching under the bed. Liability was apportioned 80% to defendant and 20% to claimant.

Case Information

UID:
2001-028-0015
Claimant(s):
KEITH ROWE
Claimant short name:
ROWE
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
101543
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
RICHARD E. SISE
Claimant's attorney:
KEITH ROWE, pro se
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: Saul Aronson, Esq. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 7, 2001
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision
Claimant, Keith Rowe, filed this claim on December 8, 1999 alleging negligence on the part of the defendant in providing an unsafe bed frame as a result of which he suffered a laceration to his left hand, and in failing to provide adequate medical treatment following the injury.

In May, 1999, Claimant was an inmate living in G-1 Dorm, cube number 34, at the Ulster Correctional Facility. The cube contained a bunk bed and two metal lockers. The bunk bed consisted of a steel frame with two steel platforms, one positioned over the other, upon which the mattress was placed. Claimant testified that on May 23, 1999, he had placed his laundry in one of two cardboard boxes stored underneath the bottom bunk. As he removed his left hand from beneath the bunk, his hand rubbed against the underside of the metal frame. Claimant described the metal frame as being "jagged" and having "rigid lumps of sharp metal."[1]

Upon sustaining the laceration, Claimant immediately approached the officer on duty and was escorted to the infirmary. The wound was cleaned, evaluated and five sutures were applied. On June 2, 1999 the sutures were removed. Between May 23 and June 2, Claimant made daily visits to the infirmary, where, according to Claimant, he was unjustifiably denied a particular pain medication. With the exception of his subjective testimony regarding the need for the pain medication, and of his experiencing a throbbing sensation the morning after the accident, Claimant failed to express any other pain sensation related to the laceration. On cross-examination, Claimant acknowledged the bed was in his cube for at least two months before the incident and, on average, he reached under that bed three times a day. At trial, Claimant exhibited a one inch long scar on the back of his hand below the first knuckle. The scar bears an uncanny resemblance to a bug.

Leroy Brighton, a fifteen year employee of Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and maintenance superintendent at Ulster Correctional Facility, testified on behalf of the Defendant.[2]
The bed assembly was manufactured by Corcraft, an industry operated by the Department of Correctional Services, and assembled by DOCS personnel and cadre inmates[3] in January 1999, at which time it was placed in Claimant's cell. According to Brighton, DOCS does not inspect the bunk beds, but that the assemblers are instructed to advise if they discover any materials which are defective. Brighton stated he was not aware of any prior accidents or complaints regarding the subject bunk beds.
Negligence
The State is not an insurer of the safety of inmates in its correctional institutions (
Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711; Casella v State of New York, 121 AD2d 495), and negligence will not be inferred from the mere happening of an incident (Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719; Van Barneveld v State of New York, 35 AD2d 900). The State, however, is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its correctional facilities from foreseeable risk of harm (Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241, Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342). To establish that the State violated this duty, claimant must prove that it either created a dangerous condition or had notice of the condition and that it failed to act reasonably to remedy the condition (Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837; Goldblatt v State of New York, 72 AD2d 886; Rinaldi v State of New York, 49 AD2d 361). If the risk of harm was foreseeable, the particular manner in which the injury occurred is not material to defendant's liability ( Buckley v Sun and Surf Beach Club, Inc., 95 NY2d 914, 915).
In evaluating this negligence claim[4]
, the Court begins by crediting Claimant's testimony that he cut his hand while reaching under the bed. Given inmates, such as claimant, were required to utilize storage space beneath the bed and received specific instructions on how and where to place items beneath the bed,[5] risk of injury was certainly foreseeable. For this Claimant, the pivotal issue becomes whether the Defendant created the condition or had actual or constructive notice of it through its employees and a reasonable time to correct it or warn others. (Kraemer v K-Mart Corp., 226 AD2d 590; Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837, supra).
Liability
The existence of the defect was uncontroverted, as was the fact the Defendant assembled the bed and placed it into Claimant's cube. Defendant's testimony regarding the inspection procedures used when assembling the bed was, at best, self-serving.
Taken at face value, the only defects it would disclose would be the most severe. However, something more was required here to protect Claimant from a foreseeable risk of harm and constructive notice can be found whenever it is shown that reasonable diligence would have produced actual notice (Bierzynski v New York Central Railroad Company, 31 AD2d 294, 297). On this record, the Court finds the Defendant had constructive notice of the defect in Claimant's bed frame having overseen the assembly thereof, and took no action to prevent injury. That failure was a breach of the duty the Defendant owed to Claimant, and, as a result, Defendant is liable for the injuries sustained by Claimant.
Claimant is not free of responsibility for this accident. As evidenced by Claimant's routine use of the storage space beneath his bed without incident, it was through his inattention or inadvertence that his hand contacted the defect. Accordingly, the Court apportions liability eighty percent (80%) to the Defendant and twenty percent (20%) to the Claimant.
The Court has reviewed the medical evidence (Exhibit 1) regarding the injury sustained by Claimant and the follow-up care provided. The records indicated a healing wound with slight swelling. In view of the testimony, the medical records and having observed the aforementioned small scar more than one year after the accident, the Court awards the sum of $1,000.00 for all damages resulting from the injury sustained on May 23, 1999. Claimant's proportionate share of liability was twenty percent (20%); and accordingly, the damage award in favor of Claimant is $800.00.

Medical Malpractice
To establish a prima facie case of liability in a medical malpractice action, a claimant must prove (1) the standard of care in the locality where the treatment occurred, (2) that the defendant breached that standard of care, and (3) that the breach of the standard was the proximate cause of injury.
Berger v Becker, 272 AD2d 565. When the medical malpractice involves patient treatment, three component duties are owed by the physician to the patient: (1) the duty to possess the requisite knowledge and skill such as is possessed by the average member of the medical possession; (2) a duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in the application of such professional knowledge and skill; and (3) the duty to use his best judgment in the application of this knowledge and skill. Littlejohn v State of New York 87 AD2d 951, 952 citing Pike v Honsinger, 155 NY 201, 209- 210.
To sustain this burden, a Claimant must present expert testimony that the defendant's conduct constituted a deviation from the requisite standard of care.
Berger v Becker, 272 AD2d 565 supra; and Koehler v Schwartz, 48 NY2d 807 (Expert testimony is necessary... unless the
matter is one which is within the experience and observation of the ordinary juror). Neither the
Court, nor the Claimant possess the requisite knowledge necessary to pass judgment on the
course of treatment or medications provided.
Here, the claimant failed to sustain his burden of proof. The medical records, as already noted, were unremarkable and noted Claimant's subjective complaints. Claimant offered nothing of probative value to prove that defendant failed to afford him medical treatment as appropriate.

The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment 1) for the Claimant in the amount of

$800.00 on the negligence cause of action and 2) for the Defendant dismissing the failure to provide adequate treatment cause of action.[6]


June 7, 2001
Albany, New York

HON. RICHARD E. SISE
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the trial notes or audiotapes of the proceeding.
[2] Defendant also called Correction Officer Joseph Stedner to testify. However, C.O. Stedner had no personal knowledge of the incident beyond the fact Claimant was cut.
[3] Cadre inmates are inmates assigned to perform manual labor within the prison confines.
[4] As limited by the pleadings (see, Claim, ¶ 2 [Claimant alleged the negligence was in issuing unsafe bed-frames]), the Court has not evaluated this claim as sounding in products liability (compare, Van Alstyne v State of New York, [Ct Cl, No. 98754, McNamara, J] UID#2000-011-100, March 13, 2000, [claimant injured when Corcraft manufactured chair base collapsed]). Were this Court to do so, the Claim would fail, as Claimant has failed to produce any evidence that the defect existed at the time it left Corcraft's hands. (Id., see also PJI § 2:141.2).
[5] Without objection from the Defendant, the Court took judicial notice of the Ulster Correctional Facility Permanent Cadre Inmate Rule Book which contained a section "3" captioned " Storage of footwear, boxes and property" which provided at subsection "B" as follows: "Each inmate will be issued two boxes to be kept under the bed for storage of personal property. The boxes are to be kept to the side of the bed footboard..."
[6] All motions not previously ruled upon are deemed denied.