Claimant has brought this claim seeking damages for personal injuries allegedly
suffered by him when he was injured while working as an inmate construction
worker at Auburn Correctional Facility on May 14, 1998. The trial of this claim
was bifurcated and this decision therefore deals solely with the issue of
The unrefuted testimony established that on the day of the accident, claimant,
an inmate at Auburn Correctional Facility, had been instructed, along with
another inmate, to remove cinder blocks above a doorway in a concrete block
building that was under construction at the facility. Claimant and the other
inmate, one Nathaniel Wright, set up ladders in the center of the doorway,
climbed several feet up these ladders and then used ball peen hammers to free up
and remove the cinder blocks from the top of the doorway. As they progressed,
claimant then moved from the center to the left of the doorway, and Mr. Wright
moved from the center to the right.
Claimant then descended from his ladder and began to move these blocks from
underneath the door opening. Claimant was struck on his back by a piece of
angle iron which fell from the top of the doorway. This angle iron had
previously been installed as a support for the cinder blocks which had been
removed by claimant and Mr. Wright. There is no dispute that claimant was
injured as a result of the angle iron falling on him while he was engaged in his
assigned duties during this demolition process.
Aside from claimant, the only other witness to testify at this trial was
Richard Gilbert, an inmate supervisor at Auburn Correctional Facility who was
present at the time of the accident. Mr. Gilbert confirmed that claimant was
performing his assigned task at the time that he was injured.
It is well settled that the State is not an insurer of inmate safety. 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 case, it is undisputed that claimant was performing his assigned duties
at the time the injury occurred, under the direct supervision of an inmate
supervisor. The very nature of this accident, in which claimant was struck by a
falling object at the specific location in which he was assigned to work, makes
it patently clear to this Court that the State failed to take reasonable
measures to provide claimant with a reasonably safe workplace.
Defendant, however, asserts that claimant, having just removed the cinder
blocks immediately above the angle iron, was well positioned to observe that the
angle iron could possibly fall once the blocks were removed, and therefore bears
sole (or a substantial portion of) responsibility for this accident. Claimant,
however, testified that although he could see the angle iron when he was
removing the cinder blocks, he was not aware that the angle iron would or could
fall when the blocks were removed. Furthermore, claimant's unrefuted testimony
established that he had never been warned or given any indication whatsoever
that the angle iron could fall.
Accordingly, the Court does not attribute any comparative fault to claimant,
and finds that the State is fully liable for the injuries to claimant caused by
Finally, the Court notes that in his filed claim, claimant also asserts causes
of action of medical malpractice and negligence, alleging that medical personnel
at the facility failed to timely and properly provide medical treatment
following the accident. At trial, however, no testimony whatsoever, or any
other evidence, was introduced as to these allegations of medical malpractice
and negligence, and therefore these aspects of the claim are hereby dismissed.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter an interlocutory judgment on the
issue of liability in accordance with this Decision. The Court will set this
matter down for a trial on the issue of damages as soon as practicable.
Any motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby denied.
LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.