New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

KNIGHTS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-009-109, Claim No. 99939


Synopsis


Claimant sought damages for personal injuries allegedly suffered when he was injured in a work-place accident, while working as an inmate construction worker at Auburn Correctional Facility. Claimant was performing his assigned duties when he was struck on his back by a piece of angle iron while removing cinder blocks from the top of a doorway. The Court found that the State failed to take reasonable measures to provide claimant with a safe workplace and determined that the State was fully liable for claimant's injuries.

Case Information

UID:
2002-009-109
Claimant(s):
TOMMIE C. KNIGHTS
Claimant short name:
KNIGHTS
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
99939
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NICHOLAS V. MIDEY, JR.
Claimant's attorney:
PAUL F. SHANAHAN, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Michael R. O'Neill, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 4, 2002
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
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 liability.

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 this accident.

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.





December 4, 2002
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY, JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims