New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-018-151, Claim No. 97887


Claimant sought damages as a result of injuries sustained while working on an emergency maintenance crew while incarcerated at Ogdensburg Correctional Facility. The claim is dismissed after trial as a result of claimant's failure to prove a prima facie case.

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: Heather Rubinstein, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 17, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant seeks damages as a result of injuries sustained while working on an emergency maintenance crew while an inmate at Ogdensburg Correctional Facility. Claimant asserts in this claim negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and ministerial neglect pursuant to Public Officers Law §73(1)(d). (Claim ¶2) The Court shall
sua sponte amend the pleadings to set forth causes of action for negligent training and medical malpractice in conformity with the proof at trial. (CPLR 3025(c))
Claimant testified that on January 26, 1998, he and other inmates were assisting the community by helping to clean up debris after an ice storm. Claimant testified he had learned to operate a wood chipper prior to being incarcerated and was doing so on that day. Between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m., a log claimant placed in the machine twisted and/or "backfired"[1]
and hit claimant on the left side of his face. Although claimant wore a lumberjack helmet with a face shield that day, the shield broke and claimant's head was cut above his left eyebrow. Claimant was returned to the facility and sent to the infirmary where he was treated and released. The following day, Officer Tucker refused to allow claimant to work, and sent him back to the infirmary where claimant was given a medical excuse. He returned to work on or about January 30, 1998.
As a result of claimant's injuries, he has had headaches and left eye problems since the accident. Claimant testified he was scheduled to see a neurologist while on parole; however, he violated the terms of his parole and was returned to custody prior to the appointment. Since his return to State custody, claimant has not had a neurological consultation.

In addition to claimant's testimony, the Court received Exhibit 1, claimant's ambulatory health record.

The State called Officer Tucker to testify. Officer Tucker is the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility's conservation project officer in charge of the outside work crew. He trained claimant to use the wood chipper and described claimant's accident. According to Officer Tucker, claimant would not have been allowed to use the wood chipper if he had not been trained to do so or if he was not wearing the appropriate protective equipment.

Claimant has failed to prove a prima facie case under any theory of liability. Public Officers Law §73(1)(d) does not support a right of action and is not in any way applicable to the facts underlying this claim.

Claimant's cause of action for negligent training also must fail. Claimant, himself, acknowledged that he was trained to use the wood chipper both by the facility and prior to his incarceration. There is no evidence he was negligently trained. The mere happening of an accident, without some showing the State breached its duty of care to claimant, does not give rise to liability. (
Fitzgerald v State of New York, 28 Misc 2d 283; Richards v State of New York, 205 Misc 3, 4.) The State provided claimant with reasonable safe equipment and training to perform the job he was directed to do; the elimination of all risk of injury is not required or feasible. (Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910; Callahan v State of New York, 19 AD2d 437 aff'd 14 NY2d 665; Fitzgerald v State of New York, supra at 285; Martindale v State of New York, unpublished decision of Patti, J. signed December 31, 2001, claim number 97382.)
Claimant has also failed to establish a cause of action for medical malpractice which requires a showing that the medical treatment provided deviated from accepted standards of care and that deviation proximately caused or aggravated his injuries. (
Pace v Jakus, 291 AD2d 436; Bracci v Hopper, 274 AD2d 865) No expert testimony was provided to establish that the medical care claimant received at the infirmary for the injury to his eye deviated from the standard of care. Moreover, claimant failed to prove that his recurrent headaches were the result of the injury caused by the wood chipper accident. Claimant's medical records reflect claimant suffered a subsequent head injury on September 22, 1999, which may account for his recurrent headaches.
Claimant has also failed to prove negligent infliction of emotional distress. In fact, no emotional harm was even indicated by the evidence. (
Johnson v State of New York, 37 NY2d 378, 381-383.)

July 17, 2002
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]All quotations are from the Court's trial notes.