Trial of this claim took place in the Court of Claims, Justice Building,
Albany, New York on June 6, 2002.
The claim seeks to recover money damages for unspecified medical expenses, lost
earnings and pain and suffering for personal injuries resulting from a slip and
fall in the mess hall of Ulster Correctional Facility on June 23, 2001 at 5:15
p.m. and from the alleged denial of adequate medical treatment for claimant's
Claimant was self-represented at trial and testified as
: On Saturday June 23, 2001 while in the mess hall claimant got up from the
table, his legs slipped out from under him and he fell. He remained at the mess
hall for approximately 25 minutes and then returned to his housing unit. While
at the mess hall claimant did not observe anyone mopping the floor nor did he
observe any signs indicating that the floor was wet or that mopping had
occurred. After arriving at his housing unit claimant was sent to the infirmary
where he was examined, given heat packs and Motrin and returned to his unit. The
following day he reported for sick call and was seen by a female doctor who
Claimant testified that although he reported to sick call periodically after
the date of injury he did not wish to have a medical hold placed on him since he
feared that such a hold would interfere with his anticipated parole release.
Claimant stated that he did not bring any medical records with him to the trial.
His direct testimony concluded with a statement that he had been previously
employed as a groundskeeper but due to his injury he is no longer able to
perform that work.
On cross-examination Cook testified, as he had on his direct examination, that
following his injury DOCS medical personnel provided Motrin, Naprosin and hot
packs. He further acknowledged that he had an X ray taken of his back on August
7, 2001. The defendant offered and the Court received in evidence a portion of
claimant's certified medical records including a copy of a radiologist's report
(Tad Renvyle, M.D.) dated August 7, 2001. The report revealed that claimant's
lumbo-sacral spine and left ankle had been examined and the X ray revealed no
evidence of fracture. With regard to claimant's spine, which according to the
claim was the area allegedly injured in the fall, the report stated "the
vertebrae are of normal height, contours and alignment. There is no fracture or
dislocation." Similarly, no fracture or dislocation of the left ankle was noted
but the radiologist observed some "very mild lateral malleolar soft tissue
swelling." In regard to this injury the Court notes that neither claimant's
ambulatory health records nor the claim filed with the Court on September 13,
2001 contain any reference to an alleged left ankle injury resulting from the
June 23, 2001 incident on which this claim is based.
It is further noted that at trial claimant did not allege that he received no
medical treatment, rather he asserts that the treatment rendered was
On cross-examination claimant admitted that at the time of his fall he did not
look down, did not see water on the floor and during the time he was in the
mess hall did not observe anyone mopping the floor.
Claimant offered no redirect testimony.
The defendant moved to dismiss the claim at the conclusion of claimant's
evidence on the grounds that the claimant failed to prove a prima facie case.
Defense counsel argued that if the claim is viewed as one sounding in negligence
claimant offered no proof that the defendant created a dangerous condition or
had actual or constructive notice of it. Counsel argued alternatively that if
the claim sounds in medical malpractice, claimant failed to offer any expert
testimony tending to prove that the medical treatment rendered claimant was
inappropriate (i.e., deviated from acceptable medical treatment standards). The
Court reserved decision on the motion.
The defendant called only one witness, Jason Carlucci, a correction officer
employed by DOCS at Ulster Correctional Facility who was assigned to the mess
hall on June 23, 2001. Officer Carlucci testified that his duties at that time
and place included observing the serving line and general maintenance of the
area. He alleged that mopping of the mess hall floor generally occurred in the
evening and did not occur during a mess hall run. He acknowledged, however,
that if a spill occurred in the mess hall the area would be mopped. The witness
had no specific recollection of claimant falling or complaining about a fall on
the afternoon in question. Nor did he remember anyone else complaining about a
fall in the mess hall and testified that no incident report was found for
claimant's alleged fall on June 23, 2001.
Claimant did not conduct a cross-examination of the witness. Defendant renewed
its prior motion and rested.
While the State is bound to take all reasonable precautions to protect persons
within its institutions, including a prison, it is not an insurer of their
Davis v State of New York
, 133 AD2d 982). Rather, the State is subject
to the same standard applied to other landowners which requires that premises be
maintained in a reasonably safe condition under the circumstances (Condon v
State of New York
, 193 AD2d 874). In order to impose liability in a slip
and fall case there must be evidence that the defendant created the dangerous
condition or had actual or constructive notice thereof (Calcagno v Big V
, 245 AD2d 698). "To establish constructive notice, the defect
must be visible and apparent, and must exist for a sufficient length of time
before the accident so as to permit the defendant's employees to discover and
remedy it" (Salkey v New York Racing Assn.
, 243 AD2d 621).
Claimant offered no testimony regarding the source of the water he alleges was
on the floor of the mess hall, how long the substance was present prior to his
fall or whether he had observed water or any other liquid substance on the floor
in that area on any occasion prior to his accident. In fact, he testified that
he did not see water on the floor prior to or even after his fall. It is
noteworthy that claimant did not specifically identify the substance which
allegedly caused the floor to be wet nor did he describe the size, shape or
condition of the wet area.
As noted above, Correction Officer Jason Carlucci, who was on duty on the night
of the accident, testified that there were no complaints made regarding a fall
in the mess hall on June 23, 2001 and no incident report was filed in that
regard. He did not specifically recall the claimant's alleged accident.
In the recent case of
Williams v Hannaford Bros. Co.
, 274 AD2d 649, 650, the Appellate
Division, Third Department, held that "[t]o sustain liability in this type of
accident, the cause of the fall must be specific and definite, speculation and
conjecture being simply insufficient (see
, Maiorano v Price Chopper
, 221 AD2d 698, 699; Leary v North Shore Univ. Hosp.
218 AD2d 686, 687)." Based upon such a standard claimant failed to establish by
a preponderance of the evidence what caused his fall. Even assuming, arguendo,
that there was water on the floor at the time of claimant's fall, claimant
offered no proof that the defendant caused the wet condition or that it's agents
or employees knew of it and failed to remedy it within a reasonable time
, Winecki v West Seneca Post 8113
, 227 AD2d
Furthermore, if the claim is treated as one seeking money damages for medical
malpractice or medical negligence the proof offered by claimant at trial failed
to meet claimant's burden of establishing a prima facie case of the State's
liability on such a claim. Whether a claim is couched in terms of negligence or
medical malpractice, if the issues involve conditions beyond the common
knowledge of a fact finder expert medical proof will be required to sustain a
, Duffen v State of New York
, 245 AD2d 653). The diagnosis
and treatment rendered by a medical provider to a person complaining of low back
pain presents issues beyond the common knowledge of a lay person and requires
expert medical testimony as to whether there was a deviation from good and
accepted standards of medical care (see
, Leonard v Kinney Systems,
, 199 AD2d 470). Here, the claimant's failure to present any expert
medical proof concerning the injuries he sustained, much less any competent
proof that there was a deviation from accepted medical standards, requires the
granting of the defendant's motion with regard to the medical
negligence/malpractice portion of the claim.
Absent the required proof noted above claimant failed to establish a prima
facie case of negligence against the defendant and its trial motion to dismiss
the claim must be granted.
The Clerk is directed to enter a judgment in accord with this decision.