Tim McNulty, the claimant herein, seeks damages for personal injuries suffered
by him resulting from a trip and fall on a flight of stairs in a dormitory at
Watertown Correctional Facility on March 13, 2001, when claimant was
incarcerated there. Claimant also seeks damages for alleged medical malpractice
and/or negligence by medical staff at the facility in the subsequent treatment
for his injuries.
The trial of this claim took place at the Court of Claims, Syracuse, New York,
on May 14, 2002.
At the trial, claimant testified that on March 13, 2001, while incarcerated at
Watertown Correctional Facility, his foot caught on a protruding nail on one of
the steps in the stairway in his dorm, which caused him to fall down
approximately seven or eight stairs, resulting in injuries to his head and back.
He claims that the State failed to provide him safe housing at the facility by
not properly maintaining the stairway.
Claimant also testified that the treatment that he received following this
accident was inadequate.
Correction Officer Scott Hanson, the Fire and Safety Officer at Watertown
Correctional Facility, testified on behalf of the State. He testified that he
was not aware of any other accidents occurring on this stairway other than
claimant's. The "Inmate Accident Logs" for the period January, 2000
through March, 2001 were introduced into
, which did not contain any reports of accidents occurring on this stairway for
The State is subject to the same rules regarding premises liability as those
that govern private landowners (
Miller v State of New York
, 62 NY2d 506; Preston v State of New
, 59 NY2d 997). This obligation, therefore, requires the State to
maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition under the circumstances
(Basso v Miller
, 40 NY2d 233; Condon v State of New York
, 193 AD2d
874). While the State must take all reasonable precautions to protect persons
within its institutions, including its prisons, it is not an insurer of their
safety (Davis v State of New York
, 133 AD2d 982). The claimant,
therefore, must affirmatively show by competent evidence that his injuries
resulted from a breach of duty by the State (Mochen v State of New York
57 AD2d 719). In this case, claimant asserts that the State breached its duty
by allowing a dangerous condition to exist which caused him to fall and suffer
injuries. In order to establish liability in such a case, there must be
evidence introduced to show that the defendant either created the dangerous
condition, or had actual or constructive notice thereof (Calcagno v Big V
, 245 AD2d 698). In order to establish constructive notice,
claimant must establish that the defect was visible and apparent, and had
existed for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident so that the
defendant could have discovered and remedied it (Gordon v American Museum of
, 67 NY2d 836; Salkey v New York Racing Assn.
In this case, and as previously stated, Correction Officer Hanson testified
that there had been no prior complaints regarding the condition of the stairway,
nor had there been any prior incidents on this stairway. In summary, there was
no evidence presented to establish that the State had actual notice of any
defective condition of the stairway.
Furthermore, there is no proof to establish how long the defective condition
existed prior to the accident, and the defect (the protruding nail) certainly
was not visible or apparent. The Court therefore finds that the condition of
the stairway, as alleged by claimant, was insufficient to establish constructive
notice against the State.
Since there has been no showing that the State had either actual or
constructive notice of the defect in the stairway, it has not breached its duty
to the claimant and cannot be held liable.
Claimant also alleged that he received improper medical treatment from facility
staff following this fall. It is well settled that the State has a duty to
provide reasonable and adequate medical care to the inmates of its correctional
Rivers v State of New York
, 159 AD2d 788, lv denied
76 NY2d 701).
If the alleged negligent act or omission is readily determinable by the trier of
fact based upon common knowledge, the appropriate theory of recovery is
negligence (Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center
, 114 AD2d
254). However, if a patient's treatment or lack thereof is in controversy, a
claim is more appropriately premised upon the more particularized theory of
medical malpractice (Hale v State of New York
, 53 AD2d 1025, lv
40 NY2d 804). Whether a claim is couched in terms of negligence or
medical malpractice, expert medical proof will be required if the issues involve
conditions beyond the common knowledge of a fact finder (Duffen v State of
, 245 AD2d 653, lv denied
91 NY2d 810). In this case,
claimant's complaint that he received improper and inadequate treatment for his
back and neck pain presents issues beyond the common knowledge of a lay person,
and therefore requires expert medical testimony as to whether there has been a
deviation from accepted standards of medical care (Macey v Hassam
At trial, claimant did not present any medical proof concerning his injuries,
and the treatment he received, or lack thereof, and instead offered only his own
testimony as a lay person that the medical treatment was inadequate. In the
absence of any testimony from a medical expert that the medical treatment
received by claimant was improper, his claim for inadequate medical treatment
must also be dismissed.
Accordingly, absent the required proof to sustain either cause of action, this
claim must be DISMISSED.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.