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
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
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
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.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.