New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

COOK v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-015-560, Claim No. 104895


Following trial Court dismissed inmate claim seeking to recover damages for personal injury sustained in slip and fall on unknown substance in mess hall and to recover for inadequate medical treatment following injury.

Case Information

AARON COOK The caption of this claim has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption of this claim has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
Aaron Cook, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Michael Rizzo, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 13, 2002
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 injuries.

Claimant was self-represented at trial and testified as follows[1]
: 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 prescribed Naprosin
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 inadequate.

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 safety (
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 Supermarkets, 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 Operating Co., 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 (see, Winecki v West Seneca Post 8113, 227 AD2d 978).
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 recovery (
see, 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, Inc., 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.

August 13, 2002
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Neither party provided a transcript of the trial and the synopsis of the testimony is drawn from the Court's notes and from a recording of the trial on CD-ROM.