New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RUSH v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-030-003, Claim No. 105550


Pro se inmate claimant failed to establish that state had actual or constructive notice of allegedly dangerous condition. Fellow inmate had coated hot valve with margarine as a lubricant. Claim 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):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 10, 2003
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Le Roy Rush, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 105550 that Defendant's agents negligently failed to supervise a fellow inmate on a work detail at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing) and that such failure was a proximate cause of Claimant's injuries. Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing on December 17, 2002.

Claimant testified that on April 22, 2001 he was at his regular work assignment at the mess hall straining hot soup from a large kettle into 6-inch pans. As he had been taught to do by the "civilian cooks,"[1]
he took the clamp off the valve controlling the flow of the soup, and slid the valve in and out halfway to free "the soup stoppage" as it came "out of the spigot." He said that the valve slipped off, making the soup spill on his left wrist, burning him. He was taken to the emergency room of the facility and treated for "second degree burns." The Report of Inmate Injury forms and attendant Ambulatory Health Record for this Claimant confirm that he was treated for his injuries. [See, Claimant's Exhibit "2"].
He later learned that a fellow inmate had coated the valve with margarine, making it extremely slippery.

On cross-examination he conceded that in the one (1) year he had been working at this job assignment - as well as the three (3) years he had been working in the mess hall generally - the valve had never been coated in this fashion to his knowledge. He also acknowledged that he had no personal knowledge that the inmate had coated the valve with margarine, but had heard people talking about it.

To establish a
prima facie case of negligence the following elements must exist: (1) that defendant owed the claimant a duty of care; (2) that defendant failed to exercise proper care in the performance of that duty; (3) that the breach of the duty was a proximate cause of claimant's injury; and (4) that such injury was foreseeable under the circumstances by a person of ordinary prudence. When inmates participate in prison work programs, the State's duty generally is to provide a safe workplace, including "...'reasonably safe machinery and equipment with which to work and adequate warnings and instructions for the safe operation of such machinery and equipment' (Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910, 913, 591 NYS2d 868)." Martinez v State of New York, 225 AD2d 877, 878 (3d Dept 1996). The mere happening of an accident does not create a presumption of negligence on the part of the State. Fitzgerald v State of New York, 28 Misc 2d 283, 285 (Ct Cl 1961).
Although the State has a duty to protect inmates from foreseeable risks of harm, it is not the insurer of inmate safety. Its duty is to exercise "reasonable care under the circumstances..." [
Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241 (1976)], to protect against foreseeable risks of harm. Assuming that the State did not create the dangerous condition, a Claimant must show that the State had actual or constructive notice of the condition and failed to act reasonably to remedy it. Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836,837 (1986). Creation of a dangerous condition constitutes actual notice. Lewis v Metropolitan Transp. Auth., 99 AD2d 246, 249 (1st Dept 1984), affd, 64 NY2d 670 (1984). With respect to constructive notice, any "...defect must be visible and apparent and it must exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit...[a defendant] to discover and remedy it...(citation omitted)." Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, supra, at 837.
Claimant presented as a credible individual. Unfortunately, it is only those foreseeable dangerous conditions which are not remedied within a reasonable time which may establish liability on the State's part, [
Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, supra], assuming that proximate cause and actual damages are proven as well. Claimant has failed to show that the Defendant had been aware of the application of margarine as a lubricant on the valve - and thus had actual notice of the dangerous condition, in order to have an opportunity to cure the defect - and has not shown constructive notice either. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss based upon Claimant's failure to present a prima facie case, upon which decision was reserved at the time of trial, is hereby granted, and Claim Number 105550 is dismissed.
Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

February 10, 2003
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.