New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JACKSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-009-122, Claim No. 97327


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:
Attorney General
BY: Timothy P. Mulvey, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 24, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

In this claim, claimant seeks damages for personal injuries suffered by him when he was injured on August 16, 1997, while he was in the custody of the State Department of Correctional Services and housed at Willard Drug Treatment Center. Claimant alleges that the State was negligent in failing to repair a window in his dormitory room, which slammed shut on his right hand. The trial of this claim was ordered bifurcated, and this decision will therefore address solely the issue of liability.

Claimant testified that he arrived at Willard Drug Treatment Center in mid-July, 1997, and was assigned to live in Unit D-3, Room 11, of the Hatch Building. He further testified that this was a typical dormitory-style room with one double-hung window, and including one set of bunk beds and lockers.

Claimant testified that from the time he arrived at the treatment center and was assigned to Room 11, the window in his room did not open or shut properly, and could only be held open by a stick or piece of wood that was propped between the sill and the bottom of the frame. Claimant further testified that in the early morning of August 16, 1997, he returned to his room after using the lavatory, and since it was chilly, he decided to close the window. He testified that as he attempted to remove the stick which was holding the window open, the window immediately slammed down on his hand, resulting in the amputation of a portion of the middle finger on his right hand.

Correction Officer Daniel S. Covert also testified at this trial. He testified that he was on duty on the morning of August 16, 1997 as a Dormitory Officer at Unit D-3, and that he responded to the incident when he heard noise from claimant's room. He testified that he never observed any stick or piece of wood propping the window open in this room, or in any room in this dormitory, and that he had no recollection of any stick or piece of wood ever being in the room at the time of the accident. He further testified that if he had observed such a stick or piece of wood, he would have immediately confiscated it as a potential weapon.

Correction Officer Covert also testified that he reviewed the log entries in the maintenance log book for the D-3 Dormitory (Exhibit 3), and in the one year prior to this accident found no requests for any maintenance or work related to the window in Room 11.

Dennis Sandifur, a general mechanic at the center, testified that he had never received a work order or any other request to repair any mechanical problems associated with the window in Room 11 prior to the incident on August 16, 1997.

Roger Lauper, a Fire and Safety Officer at Willard Drug Treatment Center, testified that his unit was responsible for conducting inspections of the rooms at the center in order to identify any conditions that could potentially be considered a safety hazard. He further testified that he had never observed any windows being held open by a stick or piece of wood in Dormitory D-3 at anytime prior to August 16, 1997, and that if he had observed any such stick or piece of wood, it would have been confiscated. He further testified that after the accident, he inspected the window and determined that the springs had come apart and the window was then repaired.

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), and therefore it has the duty to use reasonable care under the circumstances to prevent injury to those persons using its premises (Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233). The State must therefore act as a reasonable person in maintaining its property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk (Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506). The State, however, is not an insurer, and negligence may not be inferred solely from the happening of an accident (Tripoli v State of New York, 72 AD2d 823; Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719).
Therefore, in order to prevail on his claim, claimant must establish by a fair preponderance of the evidence that the State breached its duty of care (1) either by creating, or having actual or constructive notice of, a foreseeably dangerous condition; and (2) failing to take steps to correct, or at least neutralize, the dangerous condition within a reasonable time. A landowner can be charged with constructive notice if a defect is visible and apparent, and if such condition has existed for a sufficient period of time for the defendant to discover and remedy the condition prior to the accident which occurred (
Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836).
In this claim, it is claimant's contention that the window in his dorm room was propped open with a stick or piece of wood for a period in excess of two weeks, and that the State had notice, either actual or constructive, of this condition and failed to make the requisite repairs prior to claimant's accident.

With regard to the issue of actual notice, there was no testimony or any other evidence presented that any person, whose knowledge could be imputed to the State, observed or was aware of the defective condition of the window. Furthermore, the maintenance log book for the D-3 Dormitory contained no requests for maintenance or repairs to the window in claimant's room prior to the accident. Additionally, according to the testimony of Mr. Sandifur, the general mechanic at the center, no work orders had been issued for any window repair in Room 11 prior to the accident (see Exhibit 2, Work Order History Report). Accordingly, the Court finds that the State did not have any actual notice of the defective condition of this window in Room 11 prior to the accident on August 16, 1997.

Claimant contends, however, that the State should be charged with constructive notice, based on claimant's testimony that the window had been propped open with a stick since claimant's assignment to Room 11, a period exceeding two weeks. Based on the routine inspections made by defendant's employees, claimant contends that the defendant had sufficient time to both discover the defective condition and make the necessary repairs. Contrary to claimant's testimony, however, both Correction Officer Covert and Fire and Safety Officer Lauper testified that such a stick would be considered contraband, and its use to prop open a window would not be permitted at the facility. Furthermore, it was their testimony that following this accident, no such stick was found in claimant's room.

After considering this conflicting testimony, the Court finds and concludes that claimant has not established his burden of establishing that the State should be charged with constructive notice of this defective condition. In this Court's opinion, had claimant's window been propped open with a stick as testified to by claimant, such condition would have been revealed by any of the numerous routine inspections conducted by facility personnel. If such a condition existed, the Court is of the further opinion that such a stick would have been immediately confiscated and a work order would have been issued to make the necessary repairs. Additionally, the fact that no such stick was found in claimant's room immediately after the accident further discredits claimant's testimony. The State therefore cannot be charged with constructive notice of a defective window.

Without any such prior knowledge of the condition of the window, either actual or constructive, the State cannot be held responsible for the accident and the unfortunate injury suffered by claimant.

Based upon the foregoing, the Court finds, after carefully considering all of the evidence presented at trial, that Claim No. 97327 must be dismissed.

Any motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby denied.


November 24, 2003
Syracuse, New York
Judge of the Court of Claims