New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

FLOWER v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-030-005, Claim No. 101480


Inmate claimant established claim that State had notice of foreseeable dangerous condition causing claimant to fall on the stairwell at Sing Sing, not remedied within a reasonable time, and the proximate cause of claimant's injuries. No current medical evidence to show damages. Damages for past pain and suffering awarded in the amount of $200.00

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:
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 13, 2002
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Curtis Flowers, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 101480 that Defendant's agents were negligent in allowing a dangerous condition to exist causing him injury, while he was incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing). Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing on December 20, 2001.

Claimant testified that on or about "December 4, 1998 at approximately 9:50 am in the B-Block housing unit at Sing Sing Claimant was proceeding on a call unescorted procedure because...[he] was not restricted or on keeplock or anything, so...[he] was able to move by...[himself], and had made it successfully down the first flight of stairs on the north end staircase,"[1]
was descending the next flight of stairs, when he slipped and fell on "some debris and some unknown liquid substance." His claim indicates that during his safe descent down the first flight of stairs he was "grabbing the handrail." He hypothesized that the liquid substance might have been from the mess hall trays.
Thereafter, he "was carried by some inmates to the ER," where he was given some "preliminary medical treatment and then taken back to his cell." He asserted that he was injured in his back, his left and right knees and elbows. There were superficial cuts at the bottom of his elbow. The most serious injury, he asserted, was to his left leg and knee. He stated that the pain varied, "it would go away and come back, to this's recurring in nature." Claimant was observed to arrive in Court on crutches. He claimed their use was as a result of the December 4, 1998 fall, but did not substantiate this through any evidence other than his own declaration as to the reason for their use.

Since that date, Claimant stated, he was "restricted in terms of work, mobility...presently somewhat limited in terms of work and mobility at his present job assignment working in the law library at Greenhaven....Physical sports are out." He stated he can "only sleep in a medical bed...a steel, flat bed...[he] takes medication for...[his] back, also for...[his] knee....[he] walks on crutches now." He participates in prescribed physical therapy.

Claimant also testified, without contradiction, that there seemed to be a policy whereby the inmate porters were instructed not to clean the stairway until all the activities were over, thereby generally leaving whatever material may have fallen off a food tray, or other substances, on the stairway. On or about November 2, 1998 Claimant sent an "Emergency Notice" to Superintendent Charles Greiner in which he indicated, in pertinent part, at paragraph "II-B" :
...[t]he B-Block North-end staircase is frequently dirty with food from inmates transporting food pantry trays. Food is transported early in the morning,
A.M. and by the time programs are dropped later in the (A.M.) the food is not cleaned up! Additionally, the staircase is wet with liquids; for example, milk, Kool-Aid, water, etc. Porters are not allowed to cleanup until after all programs have been dropped, i.e. released so the population (Inmates) AND staff are daily subjected to utilize the filthy stairs and possibly poses a threat to the safety of those who have to use it while wet or dirty. Especially since no signs are posted or placed as to a cautionary condition. This has also been brought to the attention of the Executive Administrative Committee by the clerks, inmate liaison & Grievance, but no action to correct such areas like the Q-Gallery flats, B-Block Staircase has been taken by members of your staff.
Lastly, the official or unofficial policy that forbids inmate-porters from cleaning such areas should be modified, in writing, this way the staircase could be clean, safe and secure for all staff
AND inmates to utilize. Prior to programs, call-outs and recreation, the stairs should be cleaned." (emphasis in original) [Claimant's Exhibit "1"].

The memorandum is stamped "Received November 4, 1998."

The Court has also reviewed Claimant's Exhibits "3", "4", "5" and "6", containing some medical information. The Report of Inmate Injury form confirms he reported a fall on the north end stair on the alleged date, and was seen by medical personnel complaining of pain in his back and right leg, and a superficial scratch on his left elbow. [Exhibit "4"] The nurse's note indicates that he had full range of motion "...of all extremities." He was advised to apply cool compresses to his elbow and knee.

An x-ray report dated March 8, 1999 indicates with respect to the right knee, that there is "no fracture or effusion", and with respect to the right elbow, "there is normal alignment of the bones without a fracture or effusion. There is an olecranon spur." [Exhibit "3"].

The only other "medical" evidence consisted of inmate passes signed by medical personnel [Exhibit 5"] and sick call requests by Claimant. [Exhibit "6"]. The inmate passes indicate, among other things, that from November 19, 1998 through December 31, 1998 Claimant was allowed the use of a cane; that from February 19, 1999 through March 19, 1999, Claimant was allowed a cane pass; and that from February 19, 1999 through March 5, 1999 he was medically excused from working. The sick call requests appear to be dated January 7, 1999 and February 5, 1999. The first sick call form indicates that the Claimant is "still awaiting requested x-rays of...[right] elbow. Also need to see Doctor about frequent back pains. Need medication for pain." The February, 1999 sick call form indicates that he was having back pain, wanted medication and that his "...leg injury also hurting."

No other witnesses testified.

As a property owner, the State is held to the same standard of care as any private landowner.
Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998 (1983); Basso v Miller, 40 NY 2d 233 (1976). This property owner's duty is applicable to the premises within prison facilities. Although it has a duty to protect inmates from foreseeable risks of harm, the State is not the insurer of inmate safety. Its duty is to exercise "reasonable care under the circumstances..." [Basso v Miller, supra, at 241], to protect against foreseeable risks of harm. Assuming that the State did not create the dangerous condition, a Claimant must show by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the State had actual or constructive notice of the condition and failed to act reasonably to remedy it. Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836,837 (1986). Creation of a dangerous condition constitutes actual notice. Lewis v Metropolitan Transportation Auth., 99 AD2d 246, 249 (1st Dept. 1984), affd, 64 NY2d 670 (1984). With respect to constructive notice, any "...defect must be visible and apparent and it must exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit...[a defendant] to discover and remedy it...(citation omitted)." Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, supra, at 837.
Based upon the uncontradicted evidence presented here, the state did receive notice of a potentially dangerous condition created by wetness and/or food on the stairs, and had ample opportunity to cure it.
See, Steel v State of New York, Claim No. 90055, unreported decision [Ruderman, J., Filed June 30, 1997]. Clearly, foreseeable dangerous conditions which are not remedied within a reasonable time may establish liability on the State's part, [ Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, supra], assuming that proximate cause and actual damages are proven as well.
Claimant himself provided the state with notification of a potential problem at the north end staircase of B-Block. He asserted without contradiction that he held the handrail as he proceeded carefully down the staircase, and that some material caused him to fall. That his injuries, minimally described in the Report of Inmate Injury form, were caused by the alleged fall, was also established without rebuttal. The evidence is thus uncontradicted that the dangerous condition was the proximate cause of claimant's injuries.

Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to make a
prima facie case, upon which decision was reserved at trial is hereby denied. With respect to damages, there is no current medical evidence linking the alleged fall to Claimant's brief description of his injuries[2] or anything else indicating some ongoing course of treatment related to this fall. The Court finds that, on the evidence presented, an award of two hundred dollars ($200.00) for past pain and suffering is reasonable compensation for Claimant's injuries.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.

February 13, 2002
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]All quotations are to trial notes or audio tapes unless otherwise indicated.
[2]There is some inconsistency, too, with respect to whether it was the right or left leg that was injured as a result of the alleged fall, but the Court finds that this was a misstatement on Claimant's part during the trial testimony, and the rest of the evidence speaks of the right leg.