New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

FIGUEROA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-019-008, Claim No. 103392


Claim based on slip and fall in puddle in bathroom area in correctional facility dismissed; claimant failed to establish unusual water accumulation or that State had either actual or constructive notice thereof.

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:
MURPHY & LAMBIASEBY: George Smith, Esq., of counsel
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Joseph F. Romani, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 29, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Jose Figueroa, alleges he was injured on or about August 30, 2000, as a result of the State's failure to correct a recurrent defective condition while an inmate housed at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Facility"). The trial of this Claim was held in the Binghamton District on April 10, 2003 and was bifurcated. Consequently, this Decision addresses the issue of liability only.

This Claim was timely served on November 15, 2000. The Claimant was released from custody on or about August 14, 2001. He has since been detained by United States Immigration and Naturalization Service and consequently was not available for the trial of his Claim. That having been said, at trial the Court granted Claimant's Motion No. M-65920, allowing Claimant to testify by way of his previous deposition since there is no known release date for Claimant from his current incarceration at a federal facility in Virginia.

According to the Claimant's deposition testimony, on or about August 30, 2000 he slipped and fell while in the bathroom of the E-1 Dormitory at the Facility. Claimant alleges that he was caused to fall due to excess water being accumulated on the floor from leaking fixtures under several of the sinks in the bathroom, and the absence of required rubber mats which should have been on the floor at the time of his fall. At the deposition Claimant testified that there were fourteen sinks in the bathroom, out of which seven were broken or leaking. He described the sinks as being in two rows of seven on either side of a central wall. (Cl. Ex. 16 & 17). On one side of the E-1 Dormitory bathroom were showers then the central wall and the sinks. Toilets and urinals were on the other side of the bathroom. (Cl. Ex. 16 & 17). Claimant testified that he used the toilet and washed his hands at the first sink. He then went to step away from the sink and fell forward on the wet and slippery floor causing injuries to his hand. He testified that he landed between the third and fourth sinks. Claimant stated there was a correction officer seated at the outside window looking into the bathroom (Cl. Ex. 8 ), but he did not know if the correction officer outside the window saw him fall. Claimant reported his fall and subsequent injury to the correction officer stationed outside and was promptly taken to the clinic. Claimant testified that he did not notice water before he fell, in part due to the white coloring of the tile. It was while on the ground after his fall that Claimant noticed that seven sinks in the bathroom were leaking causing water to accumulate where he fell. Claimant produced at trial various records of work orders (Cl. Ex. 5), demonstrating the bathroom plumbing fixtures required twelve repairs from January 2000 to August 2000. Claimant alleges that these records demonstrate a recurrent water leaking problem of which the State was aware. Claimant also presented at trial the memorandum of the Acting Deputy Superintendent for Security, dated January 11, 1999, which states:
Recently we have experienced several inmates slipping, falling, etc., while taking showers.

Please ensure that the shower mats are in place and the assigned porters are mopping excess water in order to prevent any further incidents. They may be rolled up for cleaning, then put back in place.

Your cooperation is appreciated.

(Cl. Ex. 4; emphasis added).

Claimant alleges that the mats were not on the floor at the time he fell and that the mats were only placed on the floor during inspection. (Cl. Ex. 3, p 35). Consequently, Claimant alleges the State was aware that water on the floor was a recurrent situation and that the sinks in this bathroom were continuously leaking. Moreover, Claimant also alleges the State was aware that the rubber mats which were required to be placed on the bathroom floor in the sink and shower area were constantly rolled up and never placed on the floor. As such, he believes that he has sufficiently established the State's notice of a recurring dangerous condition.

Claimant also called at trial Correction Officer Christopher DiBartolo, who was employed as a correction officer at the Facility on August 30, 2000. He was assigned on that date to the E-1 Dormitory and had come on duty shortly before this accident. The witness testified that he examines the bathrooms at various times while making his rounds while on duty in the E-1 Dormitory. He testified that the shower floors and the bathroom floors are connected, but that the shower floors slope down toward a center drain. He does not recall excess water in front of any of the bathroom sinks, nor does he recall excess water on the floor. Furthermore, he is not aware of any complaints of excess water on the floor. The witness also denied any knowledge of any broken or leaking sinks and said it was the duty of the inmate porters in the E-1 Dormitory to mop and maintain dry conditions in the E-1 Dormitory bathroom, which they do on a regular basis.

Officer DiBartolo did not see Claimant fall, but conceded he was informed immediately after the same. The witness does not recall the Claimant's clothing as being wet when he reported the accident and cannot remember the shoes that the Claimant was wearing. He further testified that while he believed rubber mats were down in front of the sinks at all times, he cannot specifically remember if they were there on the date of this accident. The witness was aware of no prior injuries or inmates falling in the E-1 Dormitory bathroom. He further testified that if there were leaking sinks in the bathroom he would have put in a work order and maintenance would have done the repair work. The witness did not recall any prior work orders for leaking sinks. Officer DiBartolo did not recall seeing any quantity of water on the bathroom floor at the start of his shift, although he did not inspect the area immediately after the accident. Rather, he summoned the nurse to attend to Claimant's complaint of injury.

Claimant alleges that the State breached its duty of reasonable care by failing to place mats on the floor as required by the State's memorandum (Cl. Ex. 4), and failed to properly maintain its bathroom fixtures to prevent puddling. Claimant believes there was notice of several slip and fall accidents before the January 11, 1999 memorandum and that here there was an actual breach of duty of care by not placing mats on the floor at the time the showers were to commence.
Claimant contends the breach of that duty caused him to fall and injure his right hand.

While the State is under a duty to take every reasonable precaution to protect those who are in its institutions, it is not an insurer against any injuries which might occur. (
Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874). In order to establish liability in a slip and fall case, claimant must prove, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that a dangerous condition existed; that the State either created said dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice thereof and failed to alleviate said condition within a reasonable time; and that said dangerous condition was a proximate cause of the accident. (Dapp v Larson, 240 AD2d 918). It is well established that in order to constitute constructive notice, a defect must be visible and apparent and it must exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit the defendant's employees to discover it and remedy it. (Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837). Moreover,"[w]hen a landowner has actual knowledge of the tendency of a particular dangerous condition to reoccur, he is charged with constructive notice of each specific reoccurrence of that condition [citations omitted]". (Weisenthal v Pickman, 153 AD2d 849, 851). Here, Claimant alleges that the State had notice of a recurrent dangerous condition, namely the wet condition on the bathroom floor of the E-1 Dormitory due to leaking sink fixtures which were neglected over a period of time. However, the proof is to the contrary. Claimant's Exhibit 5, the repair log, shows that all bathroom fixtures in the area of the Claimant's fall were repaired immediately upon notice of any leaking or defective condition. In short, the State showed prompt attention to necessary maintenance and repairs when appropriate. The time frame between the report of a problem with plumbing and the repair work done was relatively short and demonstrates necessary steps were taken to alleviate any inappropriate condition. Moreover, crediting the Claimant's testimony that there was a puddle of water on the floor at the time of his fall, the State cannot on these facts be charged with either actual or constructive notice of same. In fact, repair memorandums show that not only was the wash basin area properly maintained and repaired as needed, the proof at trial established that E-1 Dormitory porters constantly reviewed the sink area and bathroom area to squeegee and mop as needed. (Cl. Ex. 5). Moreover, while Claimant alleges that the memorandum dated January 11, 1999 (Cl. Ex.4) shows notice of prior slip and fall accidents due to wet floors in the bathroom area, that document deals simply with falls in the shower areas where shower mats were to be placed. The Court finds this is an entirely different location from the area where this accident took place and the proof demonstrates recurrent water in the shower area was due to improper drainage of the showers not in any way associated with water around the sink area of this particular bathroom. The Court finds no proof in the record, other than by Claimant's testimony, that the Facility required rubber floor mats be placed throughout the entire floor area of the E-1 Dormitory bathroom. Moreover, even if the floor was wet from leaking sinks, there is no proof in this record that these leaks existed for such a period of time as to provide actual or constructive notice of same to the State. To the contrary, it appears that all fixture leaks in the E-1 Dormitory bathroom were repaired regularly, most within twenty-four hours of discovery. (Cl. Ex. 5).

Additionally, Claimant has failed to offer any credible proof that even if a wet and watery condition existed at the wash basin area, the placement of a rubber mat would have prevented Claimant from falling. The Court agrees with the State, that such an argument is similar to the one advanced in
Cuevas v State of New York, Ct Cl., January 13, 1997, Hanifin, J., Claim No. 85501, wherein it was stated:
had there been a rug or mat, [claimant] would not have fallen and that, therefore, the State violated a duty to [claimant]. If the Court were to accept that argument, then all lavatory rooms similar to the subject one would have to have wall-to-wall mats, since water is inevitably tracked throughout such lavatory rooms by persons who take showers and use wash basins. There is no such requirement in the law. Lavatory room floors, where there are shower stalls and wash basins, are wet by their very nature. That is a fact of life. In order to recover for injuries sustained as a result of a slip and fall in such an area, a Claimant must establish by credible proof that the lavatory room floor surface was not simply wet, but unusually slippery....That, Claimant completely failed to do. Further, Claimant presented no proof that there was an unusual water accumulation on the floor of this particular lavatory at the time of his accident and that the State had notice thereof (cf., VanStry v State of New York, 104 AD2d 553; 86 NY Jur 2d, Premises Liability, § 424).

(Cuevas, p 5).

In short, from Claimant's limited deposition testimony, there was no proof that there was an unusual water accumulation on the floor at this particular bathroom at the time of his accident or that the State had any notice thereof, either actual or constructive.

Based upon the foregoing, Claim No. 103392 should be and is hereby DISMISSED.

Any motions upon which the Court previously reserved or had not been previously decided are hereby denied.


September 29, 2003
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims