New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

KEY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-010-048, Claim No. 100211


Inmate claimant's finger severed when cell door closed on it. State not liable as 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 injury

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):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: John Healey, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 9, 2002
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 finger.
At trial,
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 finger.
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 New York,62 NY2d 506, 512; Preston v State of New York, supra; 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, 66 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 York, 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 injury.
Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now GRANTED.


October 9, 2002
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims