New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

TORRES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-031-504, Claim No. 99552


Claimant failed to demonstrate that State was negligent in preventing assault upon him by another inmate. 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:
New York State Attorney General
BY: GREGORY P. MILLER, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
January 16, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant Angel Torres filed claim number 99552 on December 24, 1998, alleging that the State of New York was negligent in failing to protect him from an assault by another inmate. I conducted a trial of this matter on October 22, 2002, at Wende Correctional Facility ("Wende").

Claimant testified that on January 2, 1998, he was assaulted by inmate Owens (90-T-5472) in the shower at Gowanda Correctional Facility ("Gowanda"). Claimant, who had been at Gowanda for approximately four months at the time of the assault, did not know or have significant contact with his assailant prior to the incident. He did recall, however, that when he first arrived at Gowanda, this other inmate told Claimant that he remembered Claimant and that he believed Claimant had stabbed him when both men were incarcerated at Mid-Orange Correctional Facility. Claimant did not report this verbal interaction at the time, or at any time prior to the assault. He testified that Owens was mistaken about having seen him before, and that this verbal encounter did not trouble him or cause him to fear for his safety.

On cross-examination, Claimant admitted that he initially reported that his injuries were the result of a slip and fall in the shower and not the result of a fight with another inmate. Both sides agree, however, that Claimant's injuries were the result of his being bitten by inmate Owens. Claimant also conceded that the attack was sudden and unprovoked.

The State is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its correctional facilities from foreseeable risk of harm (
Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342), including the foreseeable risk of attack by other inmates (Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562). The State is not, however, an insurer of the safety of its inmates (Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711; Casella v State of New York, 121 AD2d 495), and negligence will not be inferred from the mere happening of an incident (Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719; Van Barneveld v State of New York, 35 AD2d 900). The standard of care is that of reasonable supervision (see Castiglione v State of New York, 25 AD2d 895), and factors to be considered include whether there was a history of animosity between a claimant and his attackers of which the State was or should have been aware (see Hull v State of New York, 105 AD2d 961; Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559; Hann v State of New York, 137 Misc 2d 605, 608-609). In claims arising from inmate assaults, the central issue is whether the State had notice of the risk of harm and an opportunity to intervene in a way that would have prevented the assault, but failed to do so (Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
In this instance, though Claimant did suffer a painful injury at the hands of this other inmate, there is simply no basis upon which to hold Defendant liable for these injuries. Claimant himself testified that he perceived no threat from inmate Owens prior to the attack and that the assault was sudden and without warning. Claimant did not personally know, and had minimal prior dealings with, his assailant. The attack took Claimant completely by surprise. Given these facts, I find that the assault by Mr. Owens was unforeseeable.

For the reasons stated above, Claimant has failed to demonstrate that Defendant was negligent in failing to protect him from the unexpected and unprovoked attack of inmate Owens. The claim is dismissed. LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

January 16, 2003
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims