New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RODRIGUEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-009-105, Claim No. 93894


Claimant sought damages for personal injuries resulting from a slip and fall at Watertown Correctional Facility. Claimant was attempting to hitch a trailer onto a tractor, during a work program, when he slipped on ice and was injured. Claimant failed to establish that the State had any actual or constructive notice of the allegedly slippery condition, and the claim was therefore 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:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General
BY: Heather R. Rubinstein, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 5, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

In this claim, claimant seeks damages for injuries sustained by him when he slipped and fell while trying to hitch a small trailer onto a tractor at Watertown Correctional Facility (hereinafter Watertown) on December 12, 1995. The trial of this claim was bifurcated, and a trial as to liability only was held in Syracuse on January 16, 2002.

Claimant, who was then incarcerated at Watertown, had been placed in a work program that required him to pick up garbage from the prison yards. On the day of the incident, he was in the process of attaching a trailer to a tractor, which would be used for garbage collection, when the incident occurred. Claimant testified that while lifting this trailer, he slipped on icy ground, and as a result the trailer hitch struck claimant on the inside portion of his leg, resulting in a fracture.

While it did not snow on the day of the accident, uncontroverted testimony established that there had been a heavy snowfall at the facility on December 11, 1995, the day prior to the accident. Claimant asserts that the ground underneath the trailer was icy as a result of the wintery conditions, and that the ice was a substantial cause of the incident in question. Claimant further contends that these icy conditions, taken in conjunction with his lack of training on, and sufficient access to, proper machinery, were the proximate causes of his injury.

There is no question that the State has a duty to provide its inmates, while performing their duties of a work program, with the proper training and equipment to complete their jobs safely (
Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910). However, the State is not an insurer of inmate safety (Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842). In this claim, claimant was merely lifting a trailer when the incident occurred. There was no need for specific instruction in the use of this piece of machinery, and claimant was not actually engaged in its operation. Furthermore, claimant acknowledged that he had performed this task on numerous prior occasions, without incident. Correction Officer Donald Eastham, a building and grounds maintenance officer at Watertown, also testified that claimant had properly and successfully connected the trailer to the tractor at least five times prior to the date of the incident, without any difficulties. Therefore, the Court finds that the State in no way breached its duty to provide claimant with the training and equipment to safely carry out this task (Palmisano v State of New York, 47 Ad2d 692).
Liability, therefore, may only attach if claimant can establish that the icy conditions in the area constituted a dangerous condition, that such conditions were a proximate cause of his injury, and that the State had notice, actual or constructive, of the condition.

Claimant bears the burden of proving the existence of a dangerous condition, because the occurrence of an accident by itself does not infer negligence (
Hobbs v State of New York, 55 AD2d 710). However, even assuming arguendo that the area was icy, unless the State had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition, it cannot be held liable (McGuire v City of New York, 18 NY2d 880).
Claimant has failed to provide any evidence to warrant a finding that the State had actual or constructive notice of the allegedly slippery conditions (
Batiancela v Staten Island Mall, 189 AD2d 743). Although there was testimony of snowfall during the day prior to the incident, that fact alone does not imply a dangerous condition (Steo v New York University, 285 AD2d 420). Conversely, Officer Eastham testified that he was not aware of any icy or dangerous conditions in the area around the trailer where claimant fell. Without any evidence of actual or constructive notice, no liability can attach.
For all of the foregoing reasons, therefore, this claim must be DISMISSED.


September 5, 2002
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims