New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HAWKINS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-029-087, Claim No. 97249


Inmate, pro se, seeks damages for injuries sustained as a result of an accident on the loading ramp at Fishkill CF. Clmt himself proved that his own actions were the proximate cause of his injuries; clmt also has the burden of proving serious injury and he did not. Clmt submitted his medical records, which do not illustrate his injuries were the direct result of the accident. State's motion for summary judgement granted and claim is dismissed.

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:
Allen Hawkins, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBy: J. Gardner Ryan, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 26, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, an inmate appearing
pro se, seeks damages for injuries sustained as a result of an accident that occurred on August 29, 1997 at the Fishkill Correctional Facility (hereinafter Fishkill). Claimant alleges that he was given a direct order to unload breakfast from a delivery truck and that while pushing a "rolling food cart" on the loading ramp, he fell in between the truck and the loading platform. The trial of this claim was held at Fishkill on July 3, 2001.
Claimant asserts that Correction Officer Harcher ordered him to unload the truck. While following this direct order, claimant alleges that he fell in between the truck and the loading dock sustaining injuries to his right hip and knee. He was treated at the infirmary and asserts that he has been on work restriction since the incident. Claimant submitted into evidence medical records pertaining to his injuries (Exh.1). Claimant attempted to offer into evidence a document he prepared entitled, "Affidavit In Support: How The State Is At Fault." The Court sustained the State's objection and denied its admission into evidence but accepted this document as a post-trial argument.[1]

Claimant maintains that Correction Officer Harcher was aware of the excess space between the loading dock and the truck and did not employ proper safety precautions, including bumper guards along the platform. According to the claimant, these bumpers would have allowed the driver of the vehicle to determine the exact location where to park the truck and without such devices in place the driver cannot ascertain the precise location to park the vehicle to make it flush with the platform. Beyond making the Court aware that such devices exist and explaining his personal understanding of bumper guards (see, Claimant's Post-Trial Summary, ¶3), claimant has offered no evidence to support the efficiency of such bumpers or any increased likelihood of accidents occurring without these items in place. This being the case, the Court cannot rely on claimant's argument that the absence of bumper guards creates an unsafe working condition.

Claimant also maintains that the order to board the truck was, itself, in violation of Fishkill policy. Claimant states that, "this particular facility does not allow inmates on vehicles at no time, except upon express approval of a Superior officer, such as the Watchcommannander [sic]" (see, Claimant's Post-Trial Summary, ¶4). Again, claimant offers no support of this contention aside from his own assertions. He does not submit any specific Fishkill rule or policy that was violated when he was ordered to unload the truck.

Claimant called Correction Officer Harcher to testify at trial. Harcher testified that she did give claimant and others a direct order to unload the truck. She also testified, however, that claimant did not follow safety procedures. She stated that there was a steel bridge between the truck and the mess hall loading dock in order to maintain easy access between the truck and the loading dock. Harcher testified that she gave claimant an order not to straddle the gap between the truck and the loading dock and that claimant ignored this order, thus violating safety procedures. As a result,
he lost his footing and his leg fell into the small gap between the truck and the loading dock and as Harcher recalls, claimant caught himself with his arms preventing himself from falling to the ground. Claimant did not address the witness concerning her testimony that he was in violation of safety procedures, nor did he deny knowledge of these procedures.
Claimant himself has proven on his direct case that his own actions were the proximate cause of his injuries. The State is not the insurer of the safety of inmates, thus the inference of negligence cannot be attached by simply proving that an accident occurred at a State correctional facility (
Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842). It is the opinion of the Court that the claimant was in violation of prescribed safety procedures. When an inmate fails to use reasonable care and engages in a dangerous course of action, he must take responsibility for his own negligence (Carter v State of New York, 194 AD2d 967). On that basis, this claim is dismissed.
Even if the claim were not dismissed on the basis of causation, claimant has the burden of proving a serious injury in accordance with Insurance Law §5104(a). Based on the testimony offered at trial the Court concludes that the claimant was engaged in unloading the truck when the incident occurred and therefore, his claim falls within the parameters of the Insurance Law §5102.[2]
Thus, he is required to prove the existence of a "serious injury", defined by Insurance Law § 5102 (d) as follows:
"Serious injury" means a personal injury which results in death; dismemberment; significant disfigurement; a fracture; loss of a fetus; permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system; permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member; significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or a medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person's usual and customary daily activities for not less than ninety days during the one hundred eighty days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.
In establishing that he sustained a "serious injury" (
Cooper-Fry v Kolket, 245 AD2d 846) claimant had the burden to submit expert medical evidence (Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653). Claimant was required to submit expert medical testimony regarding causation and prognosis in order to establish a prima facie case that he sustained a "serious injury" as a result of this accident (Andre v Seem, 234 AD2d 325), demonstrating objective findings through diagnostic studies, X-rays, CAT scans, or MRIs in order to diagnose an injury (Bushman v DiCarlo, 268 AD2d 920). An expert medical witness must then establish the degree of the injuries and causation to a reasonable level of medical certainty (Dumas v Valley View House, Inc., 235 AD2d 767).
Although claimant submitted medical records into evidence (Exh.1), none of these documents illustrate that injuries to the claimant were the direct result of the accident that occurred on August 29,1997. In rare cases, where the injury is within the experience and observation of ordinary lay persons, causation and "serious injury" may be established without expert medical testimony (
Lanpont v Savvas Cab Corp., 244 AD2d 208), such is not the case here. Claimant's primary alleged injuries are internal injuries to his right hip and knee and are not within the ordinary knowledge of a lay person or this Court. The Court cannot ascertain through the examination of claimant's medical records that the injuries to his knee and subsequent work restrictions were in any way caused by this specific event. I find, therefore, that claimant has not satisfied his burden of proof.
Based upon the foregoing, the State's motion for summary judgment made at the conclusion of trial, upon which the Court reserved decision, is now granted and the claim is hereby dismissed. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

July 26, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] This document will be referred to as "Claimant's Post-Trial Summary."
[2] See, Yanis v Texaco, Inc., 85 Misc 2d 94 [fuel delivery truck was held to be in "use" when plaintiff tripped over fuel hose while fuel was being delivered to a building]; Martinelli v Travelers Property Casualty Insurance Company, 271 AD2d 890 [plaintiff was injured before the unloading process of a cement truck was complete, therefore his injuries arose out of the use or operation of the cement truck and no-fault insurance law applies]; Celona v Royal Globe Insurance Company, 85 AD2d 635 [a fuel oil delivery truck making a residential delivery was in use for the purposes of No-Fault Insurance Law when parked illegally thus obstructing the visibility of other motorists causing pedestrian plaintiff to be hit by a motorcycle]; Matter of 20th Century Ins. Co. (Lumbermen's Mut. Cas. Co.), 80 AD2d 288 [unloading the trunk of a vehicle held arising out of the use or operation of a motor vehicle]; Kessler v Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 158 AD2d 974 [loading bales of hay onto a flatbed trailer is considered use of the insured vehicle in accordance with Insurance Law §5102(b) even though the trailer itself was parked, with engine off, transmission in neutral and brakes locked].