New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BROWN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-016-020, Claim No. 103794


Claim in which inmate alleged that state was liable for his fall from top bunk because he was improperly assigned there 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:
Kenny Brown
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Joseph Romani, AAG
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 11, 2003
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This is the claim of Kenny Brown, which was tried at Sullivan Correctional Facility, where claimant testified on his own behalf. Defendant did not call any witnesses. In his claim, Mr. Brown alleges that he was wrongfully assigned to the top bunk of a double cell, after which, on August 24, 1999, he fell out, injuring himself. Claimant testified at trial that he fell out while he was asleep. His Ambulatory Health Record (hereinafter AHR) for that date indicates that he "[f]ell off top bunk" and that his injuries were a one-inch laceration on his scalp and abrasions to his right shoulder and left arm. See claimant's exhibit 1. Brown testified that since the incident, he has had ongoing headaches and visual blurriness.

Brown testified that when he first arrived at Sullivan Correctional Facility, he advised personnel that he had "problems" and should not be assigned to a top bunk. The problems to which he referred were glaucoma and two "degenerated" discs, for which he had had back surgery. Claimant added that he takes medication for glaucoma and has had two laser surgeries on his eyes.

A "Screening and Physical Assessment for Placement in a Double-Cell" form prepared on July 2, 1999 by a Sullivan Nurse Administrator includes the following question as part of a "Medical Record Screening Review":
Are there any known medical indications requiring [inmate] to be placed in a bottom bunk bed? (e.g. medically documented back problems [through radiologic or surgical physician review], medication for seizure disorder, diabetes/insulin dependent, age over 60 years, permanent physical disability [e.g. amputee, rheumatoid arthritis, diagnosis of sleep apnea, current acute injury or serious medical conditions [e.g. fractures, recent MI, advanced arthritis])

The box under this question is checked "No." See claimant's exhibit 1. The form also contains, as part of a "Physical Assessment," the following question:
From your physical assessment of this person, are there medical indications requiring [the inmate] to be placed in a bottom bunk bed?

The box under this questions is also checked "No."
Brown testified that he thereafter saw a doctor on July 19, 1999 who ordered that he be moved to a bottom bunk, but that this did not occur. The "Screening and Physical Assessment for Placement in a Double-Cell" form referred to previously contains a handwritten notation on the bottom dated July 19, 1999 which states: "new note . . . by . . . Lilley, [nurse administrator] . . . now must bunk on bottom. See AHR of 7/19/99 . . ."

Claimant testified that following his fall on August 24, 1999, he was finally moved to a bottom bunk later that day. The next day he filed a grievance. The November 3, 1999 response was that the Review Committee "concurs with the Superintendent in that the grievant was moved to a bottom bunk on 8/24/99. [The Review Committee] notes that due to miscommunication between the medical department and the security staff the grievant was not moved to a bottom [bunk] prior to 8/24/99. [The Review Committee] further notes that Administrative staff have been notified and that corrective action has been taken." See claimant's exhibit 1.
* * *
The State must use reasonable care to protect inmates from the foreseeable risk of harm. See,
e.g., Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562, 491 NYS2d 499 (3d Dept 1985). But the State is not an insurer of the safety of its inmates and negligence cannot be presumed from the happening of an incident. See, e.g., Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842, 620 NYS2d 1015 (3d Dept 1994).
In this case, as set forth above, claimant testified that he was sleeping when he fell from his bunk; there is no indication that the medical conditions he contends warranted a double bunk played any role in his fall. In short, claimant has failed to demonstrate that his falling from his bunk was foreseeable by defendant. See
PJI 2:12 and 2:70.
Accordingly, claim no. 103794 is dismissed.


March 11, 2003
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims