On September 24, 2002, this claim was heard at the Clinton Correctional
Facility ("Clinton") in Dannemora, New York
Claimant was injured on July 13, 2000 while in the maintenance shop class.
At trial, he testified that the injury occurred while he was standing on a chair
which, in turn, was on top of a wooden pallet. There was a two-wheeled cart
standing next to the pallet. He had been directed to this location in order to
clean a wall fixture. After claimant had been in place for about ten minutes,
during which time the movement he made while cleaning caused the chair to
vibrate slightly, he lost his balance and fell on to the cart. By the time he
landed on the floor, he had injured his left arm and broken his left leg near
the ankle. On cross-examination, claimant acknowledged that on the date of the
accident, while in the medical unit, he had signed an "Inmate Injury Report"
that described the accident in the following manner: "step on side of cart @
work" (Exhibit 1, p 3). Claimant testified that he had fully described the
incident to the member of the medical staff who was interviewing him but they
did not write down most of what he told them. He acknowledged that he had
signed this form.
Defendant called John Neveu, a DOCS vocational instructor for sixteen years,
who on July 13, 2000, was the instructor in the custodial maintenance class in
which claimant was enrolled. On the day in question, he was supervising 18
inmates, who were divided into two crews and engaged in cleaning in both the
hallway and the adjacent classroom. Claimant was working on the crew in the
classroom, which had been assigned to clean and strip the floor. Mr. Neveu was
in the hallway, supervising the other crew, when he heard a commotion inside the
shop. By the time he was able to get into the room, claimant was just getting
up off the floor.
He asked claimant what had happened and was told, by claimant, that he had
stepped onto the end of a two-wheeled cart that had a pallet sitting on it.
This cart had been moved along with other furniture to the back of the
classroom, near the bathroom area, so that the workers could clean the floor at
the other end of the room. Claimant told Mr. Neveu that he had been heading
towards the bathroom when the accident occurred. The direct route to the
bathroom that claimant would ordinarily have taken from the far end of the room
was blocked by furniture. His two choices, therefore, were to go the long way
around the washer, dryer and slop sink or take a short-cut by stepping on or
over the cart. Mr. Neveu testified that inmates are given training and
instruction regarding safety in the institution in general and in his
maintenance course in particular. A bulletin entitled "Clinton Inmate Safety
Program" (Exhibit A) was identified as one that inmates coming into the
custodial maintenance course have to go over with the instructor and sign before
they may take part in the course. Number 9 on the bulletin's list of safety
rules states, "Do not ride or stand on wheeled carts." The copy of the bulletin
introduced into evidence had been signed by claimant on November 22, 1999.
Also introduced into evidence was a memorandum that Mr. Neveu had sent to the
vocational supervisor on the day of the accident (Exhibit B). This report
At approximately 10:00 A.M., this date - Inmate J. Adams (88T2374), while
stepping on a utility cart, accidently tipped up a pallet that was on the cart
and the pallet struck him on the left elbow and this upset his balance and he
went down to the floor. He scraped his left elbow on the pallet and seemed
possibly to have sustained some type of injury to his left ankle. This was
reported to the hall officer who requested an escort to the hospital.
He was escorted to the hospital at approximately 10:45 A.M. He left
under his own power.
In addition to the account of the accident given by claimant and the quite
different account testified to by Mr. Neveu, the claim in this action contained
yet another description of what happened. In his pleading, claimant alleged
that he had been directed by the shop instructor "to get on top of a make-shift
hazardous platform, consisting of two chairs and plank of wood" (claim,
¶6). As he was cleaning fixtures from this position, his foot slipped on
the wooden plank and he fell backwards, while his foot slid downward and struck
a two-wheeled cart that "had stored a stack of wooden pallets hazardously upon
). Claimant fell to the floor and the wooden pallets fell on him,
causing him to suffer a broken leg and a laceration to his left arm that was
possibly caused by some rusty nails protruding from the wooden plank
The account of events described by the State's witness is believable and to
some extent supported by documentary evidence. The two accounts provided by
claimant are markedly different, and each is rather incredible. The Court
considers it highly unlikely that a shop instructor would permit, much less
direct, an inmate to work from either a chair that is on top of a wooden pallet
or a wooden plank that is suspended between two chairs.
Claimant has failed to prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that
any negligence on the part of the State caused his injuries. The Chief Clerk is
directed to enter judgment dismissing the claim.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.