New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WINTERS v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-005-000, Claim No. 103364


When a civilian van driver tossed a small, relatively lightweight package from ground level to an elevated loading dock, the inadvertent pinching of Claimant's fingers against a pillar was unforeseeable and violated no proven standards for the transfer of such packages and the claim was dismissed.

Case Information

LAWRENCE WINTERS The caption has been corrected, sua sponte, to reflect the name of the only proper Defendant (not respondent) herein, the State of New York.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption has been corrected, sua sponte, to reflect the name of the only proper Defendant (not respondent) herein, the State of New York.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
John Feroleto Attorneys at LawBy: Joseph G. Krenitsky, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Thomas G. Ramsay, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 25, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, at all pertinent times herein, was an inmate in the care and custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and was housed at Orleans Correctional Facility (Orleans) commencing in 1999. He alleges that the Defendant was negligent "in operating, training, providing a safe workplace at the Orleans Correctional Facility, and [was] further negligent, reckless and/or remiss in the unloading of a vehicle or transfer or transport of supplies, items and boxes" and as the result of such negligence he suffered personal injury.

In December 1999, Claimant was assigned to the storeroom/warehouse (storehouse) where his duties included,
inter alia, the loading and unloading of goods and supplies that came into the facility, delivering supplies to the dormitories, and unloading trucks. As established through the testimony of a civilian employee at Orleans, denominated as a Motor Vehicle Operator, UPS deliveries are received at Orleans daily and the packages are placed in the lobby of the facility. The Motor Vehicle Operator testified that the packages are then placed in an Orleans Facility van, and after proceeding through facility security, she distributes the parcels, etc., to various facility buildings, concluding her delivery run with all the items addressed to the storehouse. The Motor Vehicle Operator would back her truck at an angle to be as close as possible to the elevated loading dock.
On May 8, 2000, Claimant arrived at the storehouse at 8:00 a.m., signed in, went to the elevated loading dock, and started to assist in unloading boxes from the Orleans Facility van.[1]
The Motor Vehicle Operator handed Claimant a few long boxes to put on a flatbed wheeled cart.[2] At that point, Claimant testified that the Motor Vehicle Operator then started to toss him a couple of the boxes, and that with perhaps the fourth box the incident complained of took place. Claimant testified that when the Motor Vehicle Operator tossed the box from the hip and, as he went to reach for it, "my hand smashed against the brick beam which caused injuries to my fingers." It was the "more compact boxes she started to toss." He alleges that this fourth box weighed perhaps some 25 pounds and when he reached for the box, it slipped and then the momentum crushed his fingers against the brick pillar.[3] The injury was caused at approximately 9:30 a.m.
The Motor Vehicle Operator testified that if some packages are very heavy, she would lift them onto the loading dock herself. She testified that on May 8, 2000, she was removing the items that she originally loaded into the van and transported to the storehouse for delivery. She stated that one box was transferred to Claimant by first giving/tossing a small box (12" x 5" x 10") to him, a box which she estimated to be no more than five pounds. When Winters reached for the package he did not catch it and his hand struck the corner of the brick pillar, as depicted in photographic Exhibit 19, causing injury to his fingers.

Thus there are factual disputes,
inter alia, as to the weight of the package and the manner in which the said package was transferred, i.e., was it "tossed" or "handed" from the Motor Vehicle Operator to Claimant?
After considering the testimony, the demeanor of the witnesses and the exhibits admitted into evidence, I find that the Motor Vehicle Operator actually tossed the small box in question to Claimant, that the box took an unusual turn and that as Claimant reached for it his fingers were pinched between the box and the brick pillar. I also find that this action, with Claimant's fingers striking the brick pillar, caused physical injury to Claimant. I also find that, while the weight of the box in question cannot be precisely determined, the Motor Vehicle Operator's estimate of some five pounds is more accurate, based upon her experience in loading and unloading packages, and that Claimant's testimony of the weight of 25 pounds is an exaggeration to support his allegations. It also seems less likely that a package weighing 25 pounds would be so easily tossed by the Motor 

Vehicle Operator from her street level position to the Claimant who was standing on the elevated dock area, which is at chest-height to the Motor Vehicle Operator.
Since the trial of this matter was bifurcated, the only issue before me is the question of the Defendant's putative liability as a result of the actions of its civilian employee, the Motor Vehicle Operator. And the primary consideration is whether the tossing of the box to Claimant was an action which violated a standard which would place liability upon the Defendant, or was it a situation where innocent actions caused a pure accident that was not foreseeable? Clearly the answer, based upon all the evidence before me, is that this was nothing more than an unforeseeable result, and that no standard of care was violated. The Motor Vehicle Operator's actions were neither reckless nor negligent. The act of tossing a small package (in size and weight) from the lower street level to an elevated loading dock violates no standard placed in evidence before me, and, as a matter of common sense and logic, is likely a typical means of transferring such modest packages in similar circumstances.

While inmates who have been injured while working in correctional facilities are not entitled to the full range of protections afforded by the Labor Law, they are nevertheless entitled to a work place that is reasonably safe under the prevailing circumstances (
Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910, 913). On the other hand, the mere happening of an accident carries with it no presumption of negligence on the part of the State (Fitzgerald v State of New York, 28 Misc 2d 283; Richards v State of New York, 205 Misc 3). This was an accident, pure and simple, and when the package shifted somewhat awkwardly, and Claimant reached for it, his finger(s) apparently were inadvertently pinched against the pillar. I cannot ascribe liability to the State for such innocuous actions, and in the absence of any proof of any negligence.
Accordingly, the claim must be and hereby is dismissed. All motions heretofore undecided are denied. Let judgment be entered accordingly.

April 25, 2003
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] Exhibit 20.
[2] Exhibit 12.
[3] Exhibit 16.