New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-106-059, Claim No. 96321


Claim alleging negligence in connection with a hot pot that fell and spilled water on claimant at Woodbourne Correctional Facility was dismissed.

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):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant's attorney:
Robert Williams
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: James E. Shoemaker, AAG
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 14, 2002
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This is the claim of Robert Williams, which was tried at Sullivan Correctional Facility, where Mr. Williams testified on his own behalf. For its part, defendant called correction officer Lawrence Jones. Williams' claim arises from an incident in which he was burned by boiling water when his "hot pot" fell off a window ledge in his cell.

Claimant testified that on March 24, 1997, when his housing unit went to mess hall, he decided to stay behind to have a sandwich and coffee in his cell. In order to make the coffee, he used a hot pot, which he placed on a window sill above his bed. He recalled that he waited for the water to boil and when it did so, he reached into his bag to retrieve the coffee. At that point, he said, the pot fell, spilling boiling water on his head and shoulders: "it just came down."

Williams testified that when he used the pot, he always put it on the window ledge because there was nowhere else in the cell to place it such that the cord could reach an electrical outlet; his cell's two outlets were located approximately four feet off the ground. See defendant's exhibit A. Claimant described the window ledge as being sloped, "but not so much it would slide off." Prior to the March 24, 1997 incident, the pot had never fallen. Williams also testified that when placed on the ledge, the hot pot's cord – which he described as about one foot long -- could just barely make it to the outlet. He contended that the facility was negligent in not providing enough furniture in his cell for him to place the hot pot elsewhere. However, he conceded that extension cords are available for purchase at the facility and that he had not purchased one.

According to Williams, he began yelling for help after the incident, but no one came until about 20 minutes later when the inmates who had gone to mess hall returned with correction officer escorts. At that point, he said, he was immediately taken to the infirmary, where he stayed for seven days.

Williams described his injuries as second degree burns from his face to his back. His medical records refer to first, second and third degree burns on his back, shoulders, ear and face. See defendant's exhibit A. Photographs of claimant taken on May 20, 1997 show dark shaded areas on his neck and shoulders; Williams testified that these areas still remain. See claimant's exhibits 1 and 2.
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Correction officer Lawrence Jones, who was working at Woodbourne at the time of the incident, testified that in claimant's unit, there are four tiers of cells. When inmates go to mess hall, officers from the second, third and fourth tiers accompany such inmates, while the first tier officer stays behind with the inmates who choose to remain in their cells. According to Jones, such first tier officer has visual and auditory access to all four tiers. In addition, Jones testified, porters remain behind who have access to telephones with emergency instructions, although he seemed to suggest that such porters might also go to mess hall; claimant testified that at the time of his accident, no such porters were in fact available. Jones also testified that while inmates go to mess hall, a block sergeant with a radio makes rounds of the unit. Finally, Jones testified that at some point, intercoms were installed in the cell block, but he could not recall when; claimant testified that there were no intercoms at the time of his accident.
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It is somewhat unclear how Williams' accident occurred. As set forth above, he testified that the water "just came down," but he also testified that the ledge was sloped, but "not so much it would slide off." In any event, there has been no showing that defendant violated any applicable rules or regulations with regard to the placement of the outlets or as to the furnishing of Williams' cell. Moreover, Williams conceded that he could have used an extension cord, but did not do so. Similarly, as to the response following claimant's accident, there has been no showing that defendant violated any applicable rules or regulations or was otherwise negligent.

For the foregoing reasons, claim no. 96321 is dismissed.


June 14, 2002
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims