New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MCNULTY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-009-108, Claim No. 104059


Claimant sought damages for injuries resulting from a trip and fall on a stairway at Watertown Correctional Facility. The Court found that the State did not have any actual or constructive notice of the alleged defect in the stairway and therefore found no breach of its duty to the claimant. Claimant also alleged that he received improper medical treatment from facility staff for his injuries, and this cause of action was also dismissed for failure to present any medical proof in support of his claim. The claim was dismissed in its entirety.

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 23, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 evidence[1]
, which did not contain any reports of accidents occurring on this stairway for that period.
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 York, 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 Supermarkets, 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 Natural History, 67 NY2d 836; Salkey v New York Racing Assn., 243 AD2d 621).
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 facilities (
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 denied 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 New York, 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, 97 AD2d 919).
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.


September 23, 2002
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] See Exhibit A.