On February 4, 2000, Claimant Dwayne Barton was injured while using a utility
knife in Auburn Correctional Facility's Cab-1 Wood Shop. He alleges that the
State improperly trained him for his job. He filed his claim against the State
on June 16, 2000. I conducted a trial on his claim at Auburn Correctional
Facility ("Auburn") on September 22, 2003.
Claimant testified that his job in the Cab-1 Wood Shop (hereinafter "Wood
Shop") was to cut rubber table bands. The rubber table bands are first
installed around the perimeter of the table top with the use of an air bumper
gun, also called an air hammer. The excess rubber is then cut with a utility
knife. Claimant stated that he was working on a table and attempted to cut the
band, but the utility knife blade was not cutting well. He testified that his
supervisor, Mr. Gerard Jones, was standing nearby at the time of the incident.
Claimant stated that he told his supervisor that the utility knife was not
cutting the banding well, and that he was instructed to change the blade and to
attempt to cut the band with the new blade. Claimant changed the blade as
instructed, and when he again attempted to cut the excess band, the knife
slipped off the band and across his body and into his left hand. Claimant
maintains that he was holding the end of the band with his left hand and holding
the utility knife in his right hand and that he was cutting "down." Claimant
opined that if he had been doing something wrong, the supervisor should have
said or done something to prevent Claimant from being injured.
As a result of the incident, Claimant cut his left thumb. He received 13
stitches on the outside of the wound and 8 stitches on the inside. Exhibit G,
photo number 8, is a photograph taken at Auburn's First Aid center on the date
of the accident, February 4, 2000. It depicts what appears to be a rather deep
laceration around the base of the thumb of Claimant's left hand. I asked
Claimant to show me the thumb at trial. I observed that he carries a visible
scar approximately 3 inches in length, running from the proximal interphalangeal
joint of his thumb to an inch from his wrist.
Claimant described the blade as having "scraped bone." He was taken to the
Syracuse University Hospital for treatment. He states that although the wound
is now healed, he experienced a "numbness" in his thumb for several months after
the accident. At trial, Claimant testified that, if he rubs his thumb or
accidently bumps it, it feels like "hitting his funny bone" or having his foot
Claimant also testified that, since the accident, he is afraid to use certain
tools, especially hand tools. He opined that his future employment prospects
will be limited because of this fear and, although he has experience in
woodworking and bench work, he believes he will have to go to a different area
On cross-examination, Claimant stated he had undergone classroom training for
one week prior to working in the Wood Shop and that he was introduced to the
work done in the Wood Shop by his supervisor in January 2000. He was assigned
to the "edge banding" task and the assigned civilian supervisor was in the room
at the time of the accident.
Claimant admitted signing a "Record of Training" (Exhibit F) on February 3,
2000. His Record of Training states he was trained on the auto ripsaw, electric
router, air bumper gun, and edge trimming tools. He recalls being shown films
on machinery but did not specifically train on use of a utility knife. Also,
his supervisor assigned another, more experienced, prisoner to work with him
when he first began working in the shop.
The State called Gerard Jones. Mr. Jones is the Plant Superintendent at the
Ogdensburg Correctional Facility and has been so employed for one year. Prior
to that, he was at the Cayuga Correctional Facility and at Auburn, respectively.
At the time of the accident, he was the Industrial Training Supervisor at
Auburn, and responsible for training, working with, and supervising inmates in
an industrial setting. Several operations occur in the Auburn Wood Shop, but
Claimant was assigned to table banding, rough cutting lumber, and building
pallets. Mr. Jones stated that he had approximately 15 to 20 inmates working in
Wood Shop each day.
With regard to inmate training at Auburn, at the time of the accident, once an
inmate was assigned to a particular shop, he received preindustrial training for
one week. After this week of training, the inmate would then be introduced to
his shop foreman. The shop foreman would provide the inmate with an entire day
of direct counseling or orientation during which he would instruct the inmate
concerning the specific task or tasks he would be performing. After the one day
orientation with the foreman, an inmate would start working, often, as in this
case, with another more experienced inmate assigned to work with him.
The Wood Shop where Claimant was working is depicted in Exhibits A, B, C, and
D. Tools commonly used are the air hammer, the utility knife, and the putty
knife. A router is used to cut a groove around the perimeter of the table top
to permit the installation of T-mold or bumper mold banding. This is done on a
vacuum table which holds the table top being worked on in place during the
installation. Once the groove is cut, the banding is tamped into place with an
air hammer. The utility knife is used to cut away the excess banding. The
putty knife is used for "finish work."
The utility knife (also commonly referred to as a "box cutter") has a case that
doubles as a handle. A screw through the case holds the blade in place. This
instrument is used to create a "flush cut," where both ends of the molding lie
flat and abut each other. The witness did state that there are different types
of banding and that some are more dense than others and, therefore, more
difficult to cut.
The witness stated that as part of the training he sometimes would apply a band
himself to show the inmate how to do it. He also instructed inmates that, when
using a utility knife, they were to "draw away from themselves with
perpendicular motion"; that is, straight down towards the ground.
Mr. Jones stated that he witnessed the
. He testified that he had two crews working at the time and was supervising
both of them. He turned and saw that Claimant's knife was stuck in the bumper
banding at an angle, that Claimant was holding the knife incorrectly and that
the knife then moved from the molding to his hand before he could give Claimant
any warning. After the accident, the witness grabbed a towel or cloth and
wrapped the wound and escorted Claimant to the medical
The State has a duty to provide an inmate who is directed to participate in a
work program with reasonably safe machinery and adequate warnings, instruction,
and supervision for the safe operation of that machinery (
Callahan v State of New York
, 19 AD2d 437, affd
14 NY2d 665). The
State, however, is not an insurer of inmate safety and negligence cannot be
inferred solely from the happening of an accident (see Killeen v State of New
, 66 NY2d 850, 851; Condon v State of New York
, 193 AD2d 874).
Also, where an inmate fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course
of conduct, the inmate is required to take some responsibility for his own
negligence (see Martinez v State of New York
, 225 AD2d 877; Carter v
State of New York
, 194 AD2d 967; Hicks v State of New York
, 124 AD2d
949). Here, the danger presented by the utility knife was
I find that the State did meet its obligation and provided Claimant with
adequate warnings, instruction, and supervision (
see Martinez v State of New York
, 225 AD2d 877, supra
v State of New York
, 139 AD2d 851). Claimant sought and received advice
from his supervisor regarding the difficulty he had cutting through the molding,
but then was hurt while applying pressure to the molding in his attempt to cut
it. Claimant states he "cut down" with his knife in a manner consistent with
the supervisor's training. However, the injury could not have occurred unless
he: a) had his left hand holding the excess banding beneath the knife as he was
cutting downward, or b) he was holding the knife incorrectly, as stated by the
witness to the accident. In either case, the State's alleged failure to train,
instruct, or supervise had nothing to do with this most unfortunate occurrence.
Rather, Claimant's own inattentiveness was the proximate cause of his
For the reasons stated above, the claim is dismissed.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.