HAMPTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-016-045, Claim No. 101970
Claimant did not prove his theory that defendant failed to use safety glass in
door window through which claimant put his hand, injuring his arm.
Footnote (claimant name)
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name)
ALAN C. MARIN
Viders & Wiesen, Esqs.By: Mitchell Lidowsky, Esq.
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Anne C. Leahey, AAG
June 17, 2003
See also (multicaptioned
This is the decision following the liability trial of the claim of Trent
Hampton, who put his hand through the glass portion of a locker room door at the
Farmingdale, Long Island campus of the State University of New York. In the
fall of 1998, Mr. Hampton was a full-time student at the college, enrolled as a
freshman. In addition to his studies, he was a member of the cross-country
team, which practiced four afternoons a week from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
On Monday, October 26, 1998, Hampton had a full day of classes and then headed
for cross-country practice, arriving just before four o'clock. Claimant
testified that he, along with the other runners, was instructed by the coach to:
run the "campus loop,"
come inside the gym for stretching exercises, do a series of thousand meter runs
outside and then return to the gym. It was about 5:30 and Hampton was heading
toward the locker room to change and to the weight room where the rest of the
team was already assembled with the coach; claimant was the last runner in.
The locker room is entered through two swinging, wooden doors (cl exh 1).
From the outside, the one on the left is the entry door; "IN" is stenciled in
black letters. Reinforcing that directional instruction is the stencil "OUT" on
the right door, and to a lesser extent, the fact that only the left door has a
metal hand plate. Each of the doors has a small vision panel, about 6 inches
across and 24 inches high, to enable someone coming the wrong way to be
Claimant described what happened next:
As I proceeded to enter the locker room, my intentions were to push on the
wooden part of the door at eye level, but I pushed on the glass instead, and at
that point the glass shattered and broke onto my ...left arm.
The glass, both on the floor and what was left in the pane,
was mixed or splattered with blood and was regarded by the school's staff as
hazardous waste to be placed in specified red bags and carted away. We did not
at trial therefore have any pieces of glass, nor any photographs of the scene
right after Hampton's injury; there is a photograph showing claimant's injured
left forearm (cl exh 2).
Testimony was elicited from expert witnesses on behalf of both parties that the
nature of its fragments would indicate what kind of glass was in the vision
panel. Only claimant and Timothy Ryan, a college employee, were able to testify
about the condition of the broken glass. Ryan, who has been a plant utilities
engineer at the Farmingdale college for over ten years, at the time worked a 4
p.m. to midnight shift on Monday and Tuesday. He described his duties in
We do pretty much anything. After four o'clock the maintenance division leaves
and we cover the rest of the campus. We handle all the emergencies and [clean
ups] and [fixits] and hold things together until morning.
One of the problems Ryan dealt with regularly was broken glass. He said he
cleaned it up on an average of once a week, glass from
"[v]arious places, doors, windows, the dormitories mostly." It is not all the
Sometimes it's wire glass, so it just kind of hangs there. Sometimes it would
be like a safety glass that breaks all into a million little pebbly pieces.
Sometimes it would be regular pane glass where it breaks into icicle shaped
Ryan was a credible, straightforward witness who was familiar with the subject
matter. I do not accept claimant's contention that Ryan's December 8, 2000
deposition was inconsistent with his trial testimony. The latter was a more
complete explanation that a piece of glass, which he earlier may have suggested
was fairly large, was in fact
composed of a number of the smaller pieces strung together. With his relaxed
and patient manner, Ryan's explanation was perfectly
Hampton, who was severely injured and bleeding extensively, may not have been
in a condition to observe the subsequent form taken by what had injured him.
When asked if he saw any glass on the floor after his accident, Hampton
responded " I don't remember."
His only description of the glass was that there was a five-inch diamond piece
left intact in the door, which was the only glass remaining in the vision panel.
Hampton may not, due to his injury, have been able to note and remember whether
the relatively large piece was fractured and actually comprised of much smaller
pieces strung together. In addition to his situation which did not allow for
calm observation, Hampton's overall credibility was undermined by his testimony
that as he approached the door to push it with his hand,
"I was walking
very leisurely." In light of the overall evidence, this was not believable.
Thus, Ryan's description of what was left of the glass - - in the door and on
floor - - will be relied upon here. Despite the frequency of times he was
called upon to clean up glass, Ryan recalled this specific instance, likely
because of the extent of Hampton's bleeding. Consider the following exchange:
Q ... What did the glass on the floor look like?
A. There was all a million small pebbles.
Q. What size was each pebble?
A. About a quarter inch by quarter inch.
Q. Were the pebbles all the same size?
A. Approximately, yes.
Ryan went on to explain that he observed that some of the pebble-like pieces
would aggregate together in larger pieces:
Q ... Were all the pieces a quarter inch, or were there any other pieces?
A ... No. There were pieces that were held together, but they all...had the same
breakage within them, kind of like the pieces are all held together by like a
piece of Saran Wrap. They all cling together. You could pick up one corner and
you'd get 20 of them at the same time.
Q. And how big were these pieces that were hung together?
A. They varied greatly. Some were an inch big. Some were five inches
Q ...these pieces that were connected had the individual pebbles inside of
Q. And the individual pebbles were they the same size?
A. Approximately, yes.
Ryan added that while the individual pebbles were not
triangular, some of the connected pieces were. The witness was quite certain
that there were no shards on the floor - - no larger, pointed, triangular single
pieces of glass.
As to what was left in the vision panel, Ryan explained that most of the bottom
of the glass panel had been knocked out. The top, he recalled, had broken
straight across, and the bottom looked like a miniature city skyline, but in
each case, they were strung together out of the very small, cube-shaped building
blocks. Ryan observed no shards, pointed pieces or (unfragmented) triangles of
glass left in the broken vision panel.
Each side put an expert on the stand to deduce what kind of glass would have
been in the door given the post-accident detritus. Claimant's case included the
testimony of architect Steven Zalben; for its part, the defendant called a
safety expert, William Marletta.
According to the experts, there is more than one kind of safety glass; included
in such category are tempered glass, laminated glass, wire glass and plastic
. Messrs. Zalben and Marletta each explained that tempered glass
characteristically breaks into very small cube-shaped fragments, perhaps one
quarter inch on a side. On this point, perhaps their only area of disagreement
occurred when Zalben testified that an entire sheet of glass would so shatter,
but Marletta said he had seen instances where that had not occurred. Ryan had
observed that what was left in the vision panel was fragmented, but strung
together, suggesting that all of the vision panel had acted like tempered glass;
in any event, by his extensive background and demeanor, especially on
cross-examination, Marletta had the better of the analysis (PJI
The experts' conclusions differed because their factual assumptions differed.
As indicated, I accept Ryan's observations on what remained of the glass in the
door and on the floor. Consequently, claimant is unable to meet his burden in
proving that such debris implied that the glass Hampton broke through was
ordinary glass, rather than safety glass (
1:23, 1:60 & 1:70).
Moreover, Fred Harrison, SUNY Farmingdale's associate director of physical
plant who started with the college in 1968, went unchallenged when he testified
that the original specifications called for tempered glass
and that such was presumptively originally installed. Mr. Harrison stated that
the facility, the George E. Nold Athletic Hall, was completed in 1972, as did
Christopher Marcella, an architect who was deputy director of design for the
State University Construction Fund. Mr. Marcella testified that the
Construction Fund had begun the design for Nold Hall in 1968 and let out a
construction contract in 1970, which was completed by the summer of 1972 (see
def exh A).
Harrison testified that a search of the records by his office turned up no
similar accidents dating back to 1981, which conclusion I found credible. No
records were available for the period from the building's opening in 1972
through 1981. Nor does Harrison personally recall anything like Hampton's
accident. It seems unlikely that were the vision panel in question previously
broken, that what claimant concedes was originally tempered glass would have
been replaced with ordinary glass.
Finally, claimant's proof comes down to an assertion that the nature of the
injury was so severe that it could only have been caused by ordinary glass, not
by safety glass; the Incident Report provides that claimant's arm was "cut...to
the bone" (cl exh 4). While I comprehend the argument vigorously advanced by
claimant that it would take the larger shards of ordinary glass to do this kind
of damage, this trier of fact cannot so conclude per the required burden of
It thus becomes unnecessary to reach the issue of whether the sole proper
defendant in this action should be the State University Construction Fund, which
can only be sued in Supreme Court (Education Law §373-a).
In view of the foregoing, claimant Trent Hampton has failed to show by a fair
preponderance of the credible evidence that the defendant breached a duty to him
and that such breach was the proximate cause of the injuries claimed for the
accident of October 26, 1998; therefore, his claim (no. 101970) is
. All motions not previously ruled upon are hereby deemed
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY
June 17, 2003
HON. ALAN C. MARIN
Judge of the Court of Claims
A surgeon or a physician with a
forensic speciality might have been able to shed light on what it would take to
cause an injury like Hampton's.