New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BARTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-031-519, Claim No. 102616


Claimant's injuries are a result of his own inattentiveness. Claim for negligent training, supervision dismissed.

Case Information

DWAYNE BARTON a/k/a WAYNE MC WILLIAMS Claimant filed his original claim in June of 2000, using the name Dwayne Barton. Claimant was subsequently paroled and then re-incarcerated under the name of Wayne McWilliams.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :
Claimant filed his original claim in June of 2000, using the name Dwayne Barton. Claimant was subsequently paroled and then re-incarcerated under the name of Wayne McWilliams.
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: TIMOTHY P. MULVEY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 21, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 fall asleep.

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 of industry.

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 accident[1]
. 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 unit.
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 York, 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 obvious.
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 ; Rosado 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 injuries.
For the reasons stated above, the claim is dismissed.


October 21, 2003
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]A "to/from" memo was introduced into evidence as Exhibit E. The memo does not describe how the accident happened other than to say Claimant cut himself with a utility knife. It does have the wrong date of the accident and both sides agree that the date was February 4, 2000 and not February 2, 2000, as the document indicates. I did not rely on this document in making my decision.