New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ANSBRO v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-013-516, Claim No. 100889


Inmate claimant failed to offer proof of actual or constructive notice of snowy condition of walkway resulting from recent storm. Since snow was still falling, the "storm in progress" principles apply.

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 of the State of New York
BY: REYNOLDS E. HAHN, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 12, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


At approximately 1:00 p.m. on March 4, 1999, Claimant, then an inmate, while walking across the grounds of the Groveland Correctional Facility (Groveland) fell on the snowy and slippery surface fracturing his right wrist and suffering other injuries. According to the Claimant, while there was limited movement about the facility, such as to the mess hall, infirmary, and package room, all routine activity was suspended because there had been a severe winter storm during the previous 24 hours, and, even though it had abated, the wind was causing the snow to drift.

The Claimant was housed in E Dormitory at the facility. The previous September he had severely injured his ankle and was still having difficulty ambulating at the time of this incident. In fact, since his admission into the system, including his confinement at Groveland, he had been on limited activity, having been classified as "medically unassigned" to any program. On the morning of this incident, Claimant did not go to breakfast or lunch, choosing instead to eat in his cubicle, even though the mess hall was only 100 feet from E Dormitory. According to Claimant, he was concerned about his physical ability to walk this comparatively short distance safely due to the weather conditions.

He stated that the grounds within Groveland were a mess and, in his opinion, constituted a danger to anyone walking on that day. While the interior roads had been plowed earlier, the blowing snow had re-covered them. He was not sure if the walkways had been shoveled or salted previously.

At approximately 11:00 a.m., Claimant received word from Correction Officer Todd Bentley that there was a package for him in the package room, which was located on the other side of the campus from E Dorm. He inquired as to whether he could retrieve the package the following day, since he did not want to venture out because of his bad ankle and the prevailing weather conditions. He stated that two hours later he was advised that he had to go pick up the package on that day before the room closed. He interpreted that as a direct order, which meant that if he failed to get the package at that time he could be disciplined for failing to follow the order. He requested, and was granted, permission to be accompanied to the package room by another inmate.

Claimant stated that he and fellow inmate, Robert DiNola, took the route that was used by most of the inmates and prison personnel to get to the package room from the dorm area. He produced a hand-drawn sketch of the prison grounds showing the approximate location of his dorm and the package room (Exhibit 1). An additional and more exact diagram of the entire facility was introduced by the Defendant, showing the location of all the buildings within the facility (Exhibit A). The Court has relied on Defendant's exhibit as a better representation of the location of the buildings, but notes that it does not show the walkway that Claimant used to go to the package room. For purposes of reference, the witnesses explained that Building Number 93 is E Dorm, and Building Number 153 is the package room on Exhibit A.

After leaving E Dorm, Claimant and DiNola walked on the roadway past G Dorm, and then crossed over a median area and another roadway to the area Claimant described as a walkway. This walkway, while not depicted on Exhibit A, apparently is a walkway that inmates used when crossing the prison campus from the dorm area to other buildings, including the infirmary and the package room. According to both the Claimant and Inmate DiNola, the winds were blowing vigorously as they left the dorm, and while it was impossible to determine whether the walkway had been cleaned off after the snow had stopped, it did appear that the roads may have been plowed. However, the blowing and drifting snow made it difficult to determine with certainty when that was done. Both testified that walking was difficult due to the depth of the snow, as well as the blowing and drifting. They also described the surface under the snow as being slippery and ice covered, with Mr. DiNola adding that Claimant almost lost his footing due to the ice as they exited E Dorm.

Once the two inmates covered the area described as the walkway, a distance estimated to be about 300 yards in length, they were able to walk on the roadway surface. This area had apparently been plowed prior to Claimant's fall, but, as noted earlier, there was no evidence as to when that had occurred. As they passed by the infirmary, according to both Claimant and DiNola, Claimant's feet went out from under him, causing him to fall in such a way that he landed on his right wrist, fracturing it. With the assistance of DiNola, Claimant was taken to the infirmary, where he received preliminary treatment and was later transferred to a local hospital for continuing care.

The Defendant called Ronald Conrad, the maintenance supervisor at Groveland on the date of the accident. Conrad stated that he was responsible for all maintenance in the facility, including snow removal from the roadways and parking lots, and estimated that there were 18 miles of roadway in the entire facility. He acknowledged that there was a walkway from F Dorm (#253) down to the roadway, but indicated that he did not have any snow removal responsibility for that area because it fell to the inmate work crews. He went on to testify that his crews were instructed to initially clear the perimeter roadways and parking lots and then the roadways inside the facility, starting with the areas around the infirmary, mess hall and dorms. He stated that he was aware that the inmates used the walkways, as well as the roadways, to walk on when crossing the Groveland facility.

Correction Officer Todd Bentley testified that he had no independent recollection of March 4, 1999, nor the incident involving Claimant's fall. On that day he was working in E Dorm, second floor, according to his review of the dorm log (Exhibit E). He stated that had he received notification that Claimant received a package, he would have informed him of that fact. When Claimant left for the package room, he would sign out and fill in where he was going. He also testified that an inmate could pick up the parcel during the hours that the package room was open. He felt that the most direct route to the package room from E Dorm was to cross over to F Dorm and then go down the "lower green" to Building 16 (Exhibit A), turn left and proceed to the package room. He testified that the route taken by Claimant that day was an acceptable one, but longer and more exposed to the elements than the one he described.

Correction Officer Wesley Sampson testified that on the date of the accident he was the officer in the package room. He explained that when an inmate receives a package it is logged in, opened, inventoried and, after all the packages are processed, calls are made to the various dorms and floors to alert the dorm officer than an inmate on that floor has received a package and it can be claimed. He stated that there is no time limit imposed as to how soon an inmate must pick up the parcel, other than between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. The package will be held until it is claimed by the inmate, unless he has been transferred out of the facility or there were perishable contents. He also stated that he cannot order an inmate to pick up a parcel and, in fact, he only notifies the floor officer that a particular inmate has received a package.

When the State acts in a proprietary capacity as a landowner, it has a duty to maintain its land in a reasonably safe condition (
see, Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233). That duty extends to those in the State's institutions, but while it must take every reasonable precaution to protect those individuals, the State is not an insurer against any injury which might occur (Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850).
The fact that an accident occurs does not establish negligence and, for liability to attach, a claimant must prove that the State breached its duty of care to the claimant (
Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719). The standard of care must be applied with appreciation of the problems caused by winter weather and, for liability to be found, there must be evidence that the presence of snow or ice created a dangerous condition which the State knew or should have known existed (Marcellus v Littauer Hosp. Assn., 145 AD2d 680). Further, as this Court has noted: is virtually impossible to clear all snow and ice from areas... in northern portions of New York in the wintertime. The fact that an inmate falls on correctional facility premises does not render the State liable if the conditions existing at the time of the accident were not so unusual, dangerous or different from the conditions ordinarily prevailing during the winter months in the locality (Cordero v State of New York, Ct Cl, June 21, 1993, Bell, J., at 6, citing Schwabl v St. Augustine's Church, 288 NY 554; Williams v City of New York, 214 NY 259; Van Slyke v New York Cent. R.R. Co., 21 AD2d 147; Hallock v Ballachey, 258 App Div 774, affd 284 NY 648; Condon v State of New York, Ct Cl, Jan. 10, 1992, E. Margolis, J., affd 193 AD2d 874; 1 NY PJI 2d 2:111A; Annotation, Liability for Injuries in Connection with Ice or Snow on Nonresidential Premises, 95 ALR3d 15)

Crabtree v State of New York, Ct Cl, March 11, 1994, Bell, J.)

"It is well settled that a landowner has a reasonable time in which to address a storm-related snow or ice condition on its property subsequent to the cessation of the storm and is not required to take any corrective actions while a storm is still in progress" (
Reynolds v Sead Dev. Group, 257 AD2d 940). In cases such as this one, in order to establish a prima facie case of negligence against a governmental entity for injuries sustained in a fall upon snow or ice, the Claimant must establish "actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition and a reasonably sufficient time from the end of the storm which created the condition to remedy it" (Urena v New York City Tr. Auth., 248 AD2d 377, 378). Without such proof, there can be no liability imposed on the landowner (Chapman v City of New York, 268 AD2d 498).
Here, Claimant ventured out at a point when the storm was admittedly still in progress. According to his testimony, the wind was of such a velocity that walking and visibility were difficult due to the blowing and drifting snow. He was made aware of the dangerous footing almost immediately after leaving his dorm when, according to his companion's testimony, Claimant almost fell because of the conditions of the roadway and walk area. Clearly, Claimant was patently aware of the potential problems of walking to the package room. There is no proof in this record to establish that the Defendant had notice of the icy condition or that the storm had ceased, affording it sufficient reasonable time to attend to the condition.

Finally, I have given little probative weight to Claimant's testimony that he was ordered to pick up his package the day of the storm. His fellow inmate, Robert DiNola, tried to corroborate Claimant's version, but his testimony in this regard was discredited on cross-examination. Rather, I accept the testimony of Correction Officer Sampson that no time limit was imposed on inmates to pick up their packages. I conclude that Claimant decided on his own to venture out into an ongoing storm to pick up his package, in spite of his reduced ability to ambulate caused by the prior injury to his ankle.

Claimant has failed to establish a prima facie case of liability against the State. Defendant's motion for dismissal made at the close of trial, and upon which decision was reserved, is now granted and the claim is dismissed. All other motions not heretofore decided are now denied.


December 12, 2002
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims