New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ROBERSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-030-519, Claim No. 98582


Inmate's claim alleging negligent failure to maintain basketball court at Sing Sing Correctional Facility dismissed for failure to establish a prima facie case. No proof of notice of dangerous condition

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:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, New York State Attorney General By: ELYSE ANGELICO, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 10, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Edward Roberson alleges in Claim number 98582, that he was injured while playing basketball because of Defendant's negligent failure to maintain a basketball court at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing). Trial of this matter was held at Sing Sing on August 14, 2001.

Claimant relied upon the factual allegations contained in his claim, as well as his own testimony at trial. Claimant testified that on July 4, 1996, while playing basketball in the A-block yard, he slipped in a puddle of water causing him to lose his balance and fall into an unpadded steel basketball frame. He indicated that there was no "cap or padding"[1]
on the "very sharp steel frame," and when he fell it took a "chunk out of his [right] leg." Mr. Roberson had to be carried from the yard, ultimately receiving nine stitches in his leg at St. Agnes Hospital. He suffered "excruciating pain, walked on crutches for a month", and continues to experience "numbness in the shin area and below the knee to his ankle."
In the Report of Inmate Injury concerning the incident the "inmate's statement" is noted as: "I fell and hit my leg on the metal support for the basket;" and the "cause of injury" is noted as "sports." [Claimant's Exhibit "9", Report of Inmate Injury, dated July 4, 1996]. Notations in Claimant's Ambulatory Health Record (hereafter AHR) state that "while jumping up to make a basketball shot, [Claimant] fell into metal support which holds up the basket (stanchion) striking...[right leg]...." [Claimant's Exhibit "9", AHR for May 20, 1996 through July 18, 1996].

Several photographs taken of Claimant near the time of the incident show what appears to be a deep cut in his right leg [Claimant's Exhibit "6", Photographs of injured right leg, taken on July 4, 1996], and the series of stitches used to repair his injury. [Claimant's Exhibits "4" and "5", Photographs of right leg taken on July 10, 1996].

Photographs taken of the basketball frame itself show an apparently portable structure - in the sense that it is not cemented into the ground - which appears to be constructed out of box steel tubing or some other hollow metal. [Claimant's Exhibits "1", "2", "3" and "6"]. It has a rectangular shaped base. On the left side of the front part of the rectangular base as one faces the basketball hoop, there is an extension of the base at a right angle, presumably duplicated on the other side of the base, but not shown in the photographs. [Claimant's Exhibits "1", "2" and "3"]. The end of the extension appears to be an "uncapped" steel edge. The structure is otherwise unremarkable, and contains padding on the front part of the frame, perpendicular to the base, as one faces the basketball hoop.

On July 10, 1996 Claimant filed a grievance concerning the alleged incident. [Claimant's Exhibit "7", Inmate Grievance Complaint dated July 10, 1996]. After a hearing, the grievance committee recommended that the "recreation department take the necessary steps to insure that this unsafe condition be rectified." [Claimant's Exhibit "7", Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee Report, dated July 30, 1998]. The Superintendent's determination, dated August 14, 1996, also indicates: "the Recreation Dept. Coordinator,...has been contacted concerning this matter. If extra padding is necessary,...[he] will issue a repair order and follow-up to see that the repair is made as soon as possible." [Claimant's Exhibit "7", Inmate Grievance Program (Superintendent), dated August 14, 1996].

No other witnesses testified.

Although the State has a duty to protect inmates from foreseeable risks of harm, it is not the insurer of inmate safety. Its duty is to exercise "reasonable care under the circumstances..." [
Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241 (1976)], to protect against foreseeable risks of harm. Assuming that the State did not create the dangerous condition, a Claimant must show that the State had actual or constructive notice of the condition and failed to act reasonably to remedy it. Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837 (1986). Creation of a dangerous condition constitutes actual notice. Lewis v Metropolitan Transportation Auth., 99 AD2d 246, 249 (1st Dept. 1984), affd 64 NY2d 670 (1984). With respect to constructive notice, any "...defect must be visible or apparent and it must exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit...[a defendant] to discover and remedy it...(citation omitted)." Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, supra at 837.
Additionally, " engaging in a sport or recreational activity, a participant consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation."
Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d 471,484 (1997), including risks due to "open and obvious defects in the construction of the playing field, as long as the participant is aware of the risks and appreciates the nature of the risks....(citations omitted)." Greenburg v Peekskill City School District, 255 AD2d 487, 488 (2d Dept. 1998); See, also, Green v City of New York, 263 AD2d 385 (1st Dept. 1999); Cross v State of New York, Claim No. 95789, UID 2000-013-511(Ct Claims 2000). "‘[A]ssumption of risk is not an absolute defense but a measure of the defendant's duty of care...." Morgan v State of New York, supra. at 483, quoting, Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d 432.
Claimant's allegations of negligence here are twofold. First, he asserts that a puddle of water caused him to fall while playing basketball in an outdoor court on A-Block. Second, that having been caused to fall by this puddle of water, he fell into the unpadded frame which the defendant should have kept in good repair.

Claimant has not submitted proof that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the alleged puddle of water. Additionally, the condition of the court itself is one of those apparent features contemplated as inherent risks of participation in the sport. If one is playing on a court located outside, it may well be that parts of it will be damp, and possibly slippery. Without more, there is simply no demonstration by a preponderance of the credible evidence that this condition was either created by defendant, or one which the defendant should have been aware of, and taken steps to remedy.

With respect to the basketball frame, Claimant has also failed to establish a
prima facie case of liability. Even if the "uncapped" part of the frame constituted a dangerous condition, there has been no showing that the Defendant created it, or was aware of it. No evidence was submitted to show how long the condition had been in existence, or whether the State had an opportunity to discover and remedy it.
The Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to establish a
prima facie case, upon which decision was reserved at the time of trial , is hereby granted and Claim number 98582 is dismissed in its entirety.
The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

October 10, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise noted.