Claimant seeks damages for injuries he sustained on May 13, 1998 during his
incarceration at Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing"), when claimant's
cell door closed on his right middle finger and severed it. Claimant contends
that Correction Officer Brian Theriault negligently operated the braking
mechanism and thereby caused claimant's cell door to close on his finger.
Defendant maintains that the cell door cannot be mechanically closed by a
correction officer and that claimant injured himself when he closed his own cell
door. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely
to the issue of liability.
Claimant was housed on R gallery, in housing block B. Claimant testified that
at approximately 2:10 p.m., he was standing in the gallery facing his cell.
Claimant maintains that Officer Theriault was operating the braking mechanism
for the cells and caused claimant's cell door to close on his
claimant denied catching his finger in the door as he closed it. However, at
his examination before trial (EBT), claimant admitted that, when he closed his
cell door, his finger was caught between the moving part and the stationary
bars. Also at his EBT, claimant conceded that the cell doors must first be
closed before the braking mechanism can function. The Report of Inmate Injury
Form notes that claimant stated, "[w]hen I was closing the gate I caught my
finger" (Ex. A).
Correction Officer Theriault testified that on May 13, 1998, he was a trainee
assigned to R gallery on housing block B. Theriault had been instructed on the
proper use of the braking mechanism. He explained that, after the cell doors
are closed, the correction officer throws the brake, which slides a metal plate
in a track above the doors and locks them. The cell doors cannot be closed
mechanically by the correction officer. Theriault observed claimant with his
hand on the side of his cell door and then close the door on his
It is well established that the State has a duty to maintain its facilities in a
reasonably safe condition (Preston v State of New York
, 59 NY2d 997).
With respect to the safety of persons on its property, the duty of the State is
one of reasonable care under the circumstances (see Miller v State of
,62 NY2d 506, 512; Preston v State of New York
Basso v Miller
, 40 NY2d 233, 241). The State, however, is not an insurer
of the safety of its inmates and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the
occurrence of an accident (see Killeen v State of New York
NY2d 850; Condon v State of New York
, 193 AD2d 874). When an inmate
fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course of conduct, he must
take responsibility for his own negligence (see Carter v State of New
, 194 AD2d 967).
Upon consideration of all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses
testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that
claimant's trial testimony, which is contrary to his EBT testimony and his
statement in the Report of Inmate Injury Form, is not worthy of belief. Indeed,
claimant conceded that the brake was not functional unless the cell doors were
closed and the testimony of Theriault established that the cell doors could not
be closed mechanically by a correction officer. Thus, claimant's argument, that
Theriault, as a trainee, should have been more closely supervised and that
defendant's failure to do so was negligent, is of no moment. Even if the Court
were to accept such a contention, there is no basis for finding that any lack of
supervision either caused or contributed to the cause of claimant's accident.
Rather, claimant's conduct of closing his cell door, while his hand was on the
side of the door, was the sole proximate cause of his
Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved,
is now GRANTED.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 100211.