New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ADAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-032-508, Claim No. 104580


Prison inmate's personal injury claim is dismissed as it is based on two very different version of events, neither of which is believable.

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:
Jesse Adams, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney General
By: Mike Rizzo, Esq., Assistant Attorney General,Of Counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 19, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 stated:

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 it" (
id). 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 (id).
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.

December 19, 2002
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims