In this claim, claimant seeks to recover for personal injuries allegedly
suffered by him when he was struck by a forklift at Auburn Correctional
on December 23, 1997. The trial of this claim was bifurcated
and this decision deals solely with the issue of liability.
At the time of the accident, claimant, an inmate at Auburn Correctional
Facility, was assigned as a "runner"
to the "Industry Storehouse" at the facility pursuant to a work program. As a
"runner", claimant's specific job duties required him to fill orders for
materials needed in the various inmate work programs at the facility. He had
been at this assignment for approximately five months before the incident in
question occurred. According to trial testimony from claimant, he was riding on
one of the Storehouse's forklifts, driven by fellow inmate Endeni Montes, when
he fell off the side and his leg was drawn into the wheel well, resulting in a
compound fracture to his ankle.
Claimant maintains that the State violated its duty to provide him with a safe
workplace. Specifically, this claim is based upon allegations that the State
failed to provide claimant with proper and adequate training on forklift
machinery, and that the State failed to supervise claimant during his work
The State is not an insurer of inmate safety, nor is it bound by the
restrictions and directives of the Labor Law (
Maldonado v State of New York
, 255 AD2d 630). However, when the State
directs an inmate to perform work, it is bound to provide that inmate with a
reasonably safe work environment (Kandrach v State of New York
, 188 AD2d
910). In this regard, the State owes a duty to provide its inmates with
reasonably safe machinery and equipment, together with proper instructions and
warnings for the safe use of that equipment (Kandrach v State of New
, Palmisano v State of New York
, 47 AD2d 692).
In this case, the operational integrity of the forklift on which claimant was
riding is not in question. Anthony Rebich, the civilian supervisor of the
Storehouse, and claimant's immediate supervisor, stated in his deposition that
he used this specific forklift the same day of the incident (after claimant was
injured), and that it was in proper working
Mr. Rebich found no malfunctions with the forklift then, and in addition,
testified that each forklift receives routine maintenance every few months. It
is clear, therefore, that the forklift provided by the State for inmate use was
in good working order, and in no way contributed to the injuries suffered by
Claimant, however, asserts that the State was negligent in failing to properly
train him in the operation and use of this forklift. As previously stated,
claimant was employed as a "runner" in the Storehouse, and he had admittedly
received training as such. Claimant's duties as a "runner" required the use of
both manual and electric pallet jacks, and he had been trained in the operation
of these jacks.
Testimony from both claimant and Mr. Rebich established that claimant had not
received any training at the facility in the operation of a forklift. However,
claimant was not required, or authorized, to operate a forklift in connection
with his duties as a "runner".
Based on the above testimony, the Court finds that claimant had been properly
trained by facility staff in the use and operation of all equipment required for
the performances of his assigned job as a "runner", and the failure to train
claimant in the operation of a forklift (which was not required or permitted in
his assigned job) cannot be considered a proximate cause of his injuries.
Furthermore, it is important to note that this accident occurred while Inmate
Montes, and not claimant, was operating the forklift. Any liability for
improper training must therefore be predicated on the training, or lack thereof,
received by Mr. Montes. However, testimony conclusively established that Inmate
Montes, who had been assigned duties as a forklift operator, had received
training as such.
The Court therefore finds that there was no evidence to suggest that this
accident resulted from a failure to adequately train claimant in the performance
of his assigned duties, or from a failure to adequately train Inmate Montes in
the operation of a forklift.
Additionally, the Court finds that claimant was provided with sufficient
training and notice regarding general safety procedures in the Storehouse.
According to Mr. Rebich's deposition, all inmates, including claimant, were
apprised of the Storehouse regulations upon entering the work program.
Additionally, Mr. Rebich testified
that inmates, including claimant, were given verbal orders prohibiting them from
riding on any of the forklifts used in the Storehouse. Claimant was therefore
aware of the basic rules and regulations of the Storehouse, one of which
specifically prohibited inmates from riding on forklifts. Furthermore, several
warning stickers were attached to the forklift, in plain sight, which provided
additional reminders to would-be riders of the dangers
Claimant also asserts that the State was negligent in it supervision of
claimant. The adequacy of the State's supervision of its inmates is often at
issue when an inmate is injured in the course of his work duties at a facility.
As previously stated, inmates in claimant's work program were supervised by Mr.
Rebich. He testified that in a typical eight hour shift, he would spend
approximately five to six hours in his office, with the balance of his time on
the floor of the Storehouse.
This office is located approximately 15 feet from the site of the
In his deposition testimony, Mr. Rebich stated that he advised claimant not to
ride double on the forklift when he began working at the Storehouse. He also
testified that prior to this accident, he had not observed any inmates riding
double during the approximately five months that claimant had been assigned to
Despite the verbal warning given to him by Mr. Rebich, as well as the numerous
warning signs placed in clear view on the forklift itself, claimant ignored
these warnings when he decided to ride on the forklift on the day of the
The State does not have a duty to provide uninterrupted supervision of its
inmates, including those in a work program (
Colon v State of New York
, 209 AD2d 842; Katzman v State of New
, Claim No. 93802 [Ct. Cl. 2001]). In this case, the Court finds that
the actions of Mr. Gonzalez which caused his injuries were not condoned by Mr.
Rebich or any other facility staff, and that adequate supervision had been
provided by Mr. Rebich.
Furthermore, the Court must note that it was not impressed with the credibility
of claimant. As previously stated herein, claimant testified at trial that he
slipped off the forklift and fractured his ankle when his leg was caught in the
wheel well. However, immediately following the accident, claimant had given a
statement to a facility nurse that he had been run over by the forklift as he
was standing next to it,
and he repeated this statement, under oath, at his subsequent
Therefore, if the Court accepts claimant's earlier version of the events, (i.e.
, that he was standing beside the forklift when he was run over), he clearly
would have no claim for improper training or lack of supervision. Conversely,
if the Court were to accept claimant's testimony given at trial as to how the
accident occurred (which it has in fact accepted), claimant's prior inconsistent
statements, at a minimum, imply an awareness on his part that his actions in
riding double were in violation of facility rules.
In summary, Mr. Gonzalez had never been trained at Auburn Correctional Facility
in the operation of forklifts, and in fact he was forbidden from their use. The
forklift itself was not defective in any way, and any alleged lack of proper
supervision had no bearing on this incident. Mr. Gonzalez took it upon himself
to disobey general and specific Storehouse regulations, a verbal warning, and
caution signs on the forklift, when he decided to ride on the forklift clearly
designed for only one passenger. Therefore, the Court finds that it was Mr.
Gonzalez's own conduct which was the proximate cause of his injuries.
Accordingly, claimant's claim against the defendant State is hereby DISMISSED.
Any motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby denied.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.