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
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
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
, 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
Crabtree v State of New York
, Ct Cl, March 11, 1994, Bell,
"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.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.