New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-019-011, Claim No. 104027


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 & LAMBIASE, LLPBY: George A. Smith, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Carol A. Cocchiola, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 13, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

The claimant, Cornell Williams, brings this Claim alleging that he was injured as a result of the negligence of the State of New York, when he was caused to slip and fall due to a wet substance on the floor of a walk-in refrigerator located near the mess hall at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Facility") on or about January 13, 2001. The trial of this Claim was held in the Binghamton District on August 14, 2003 and was bifurcated. Consequently, this Decision addresses the issue of liability only.

Claimant, Cornell Williams, is currently an inmate at the Facility and as a result of his albinism suffers from significant visual impairment. Claimant has been employed in the kitchen area of the Facility since
October of 2000 and has held down various jobs in the mess hall. Moreover, the proof at trial established that claimant has been trained and qualified for the positions he has held in the mess hall of the Facility despite his visual impairment. (State's Ex. W).

On or about January 13, 2001, at approximately 10:00 a.m., claimant was working as a food service worker in the mess hall of the Facility. He was directed to enter a walk-in refrigerator and retrieve a cart containing several barrels of fresh vegetables standing in water that had been placed in the refrigerator the day before. To enter the refrigerator claimant walked up a relatively small ramp rising approximately four to five inches from the floor of the kitchen area to the floor at the entrance of the box refrigerator. That ramp was covered with a non-skid rubber mat. At the top of the ramp one must step over a one or two inch lip in order to enter onto the floor of the box refrigerator. (State's Exs. T & U). Claimant went into the refrigerator box and began to pull out the cart which contained the barrels of vegetables. As he was lifting the cart over the entryway lip of the refrigerator box and onto the ramp, claimant spilled some water out of one of the barrels onto the inside floor of the refrigerator box. Once he removed the cart, claimant then went back into the refrigerator box to get something. On reentering the refrigerator box he slipped on the water that he had just spilled on the inside floor of the refrigerator box and fell out of the refrigerator box onto the ramp and then apparently to the floor of the food service area sustaining various injuries.

At trial it was established that claimant had previously testified at his deposition that he had slipped on the ramp outside of the refrigerator box. However, at the trial Claimant admitted that he slipped while he was inside the refrigerator box and not on the ramp. Moreover, he confirmed that any water that was on the floor of the food service area outside of the refrigerator box had nothing to do with his fall. In other words he fell strictly as a result of the water he spilled inside on the floor of the refrigerator box. Furthermore, claimant confirmed that he knew water had just been spilled in that area since he caused the spill. While claimant testified that he had seen water in that area in the past, there is no question that on this particular occasion the water that resulted in the claimant's fall was spilled by the claimant himself seconds prior to his fall.

Subsequent to the fall, claimant filed a grievance on January 29, 2001. In that grievance he claims that, "[w]hile exiting the ice-box [
sic] [he] noticed that the floor was slippery, because there was alot [sic] of water on the floor." (State's Ex. X). The grievance further stated that "[t]here was no rubber padding or railing on the ramp, which is the entrance/exit of the ice box [sic]." (State's Ex. X). Claimant further alleged in his grievance that as a result of slipping he hit his head causing injury to his right shoulder and neck. However, by claimant's own testimony at trial he was not caused to fall by water on the ramp or the absence of any rubber mats, but rather fell while inside the refrigerator box as a result of water he spilled just moments prior.

At the close of claimant's case, the State moved to dismiss alleging that the claimant had failed to establish a prima facie case in failing to show that any dangerous condition, particularly the water on the floor, was either created by the State or that the State had either actual or constructive notice of the same. As such, the State alleged claimant failed to establish that any negligence on the part of the State proximately caused claimant's injury. While the Court reserved on the State's motion at trial, after due consideration of the proof presented on claimant's direct case, the State's motion to dismiss is now granted for the reasons set forth below.

The State is subject to the same duty applicable to any landowner to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances in order to maintain its property in a safe condition to protect the safety of persons entering upon that property. (
Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874). As such, claimant here must establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that a dangerous condition existed, that the State either created the dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice of it, failed to alleviate the condition within a reasonable length of time, and that the dangerous condition was the proximate cause of the accident. (Dapp v Larson, 240 AD2d 918). Moreover, in order "[t]o 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 defendant's employees to discover and remedy it [citations omitted]." (Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837).

Based upon these facts, the Court agrees with the State that the claimant has failed to establish either actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition. By claimant's own testimony there was no noticeable water on the ramp at the time of the fall, nor did the State have any actual or constructive notice of any recurrent water problem outside the normal conditions one would find in the kitchen area of a correctional facility. To the contrary, claimant's own testimony establishes that the water upon which he slipped and fell was spilled by him only moments before he slipped upon it. Furthermore, while the claimant alleges that the State was negligent for not having rubber mats placed upon the ramp leading into the refrigerator box, the Court is satisfied that the claimant did not fall on the ramp, but slipped and fell on the floor of the refrigerator box.[1]
Consequently, the presence or the absence of a rubber mat played no role in the claimant's fall. With regard to claimant's visual impairment, the Court is satisfied from the documents presented that the claimant chose this area of work and had received sufficient training to perform his tasks without undue danger to himself. Moreover, claimant's disability had nothing to do with the fall since his own testimony indicates he was aware of the water he spilled moments before he slipped on it. Consequently, the Court finds that the claimant, even with his visual disability, failed to use reasonable care to avoid a hazard created by his own doing. Where an inmate fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course of conduct, he or she is required to take responsibility for their own negligence. (Martinez v State of New York, 225 AD2d 877, 878). Consequently, claimant has failed to establish that any negligence on the part of the State proximately caused his injury. As such, the State's motion to dismiss made at the close of claimant's proof, upon which the Court previously reserved, is now granted.

Accordingly, Claim No. 104027 is hereby DISMISSED.


November 13, 2003
Binghamton, New York
Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]The Court is satisfied that on the date of claimant's accident rubber mats were present in any event.