New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WARD v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-013-501, Claim No. 102460


Synopsis


Case Information

UID:
2004-013-501
Claimant(s):
ANTHONY WARD
Claimant short name:
WARD
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
102460
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
PHILIP J. PATTI
Claimant's attorney:
ANTHONY WARD, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: THOMAS G. RAMSAY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 10, 2004
City:
Rochester
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Anthony Ward, the pro se Claimant, alleges that on February 28, 2000, while an inmate at Groveland Correctional Facility (Groveland), he severed the tip of his right index finger while attempting to replace a "dumbbell" weight on a rack designed to hold these weights.

The weight rack is described as being approximately 3½ to 4 feet tall, 8 feet long and weighing over 200 pounds, without any weights on it. It has three levels to accommodate weights and each level is slanted in a downward manner, away from the unit's back. The heaviest weights are generally placed on the bottom level and the lightest weights placed on the top level. Each level or shelf has a piece of L-shaped metal known as an angle iron, which tilts toward the user and forms a "lip" against which the weights rest when stored.

Claimant testified that the accident occurred as he was attempting to place a 45-pound dumbbell on the bottom level of the rack, and a 75-pound dumbbell situated on the top shelf of the rack started to slide forward. According to his testimony, he reached up to stop the weight from sliding off the rack and his index finger became wedged between the weight and a portion of the metal rack, severing the tip of the digit. In the inmate grievance he filed (Exhibit A), he alleged that the accident occurred because he was never instructed in the proper way to handle weights when placing them back on the rack. In his notice of intention to file a claim (Exhibit B), Claimant essentially alleges that the accident happened as he was
replacing a 75-pound weight; the Defendant allowed an unsafe recreational condition to exist in the facility weight room, and failed to properly supervise the health and recreation program. In his claim (Exhibit C, ¶5), Claimant alleged that the accident occurred when a 75-pound weight "rolled off the rack striking claimant's right hand and wedging his right index finger between the edge railing of the 1st (bottom) tier and the dumbbell." He further alleges that the Defendant was negligent in failing to post signs demonstrating the proper way to replace weights on the rack and in failing to provide adequate supervision.
Claimant testified that this was his first visit to the weight room at Groveland and that he had not received any prior instruction on storing or replacing weights on the rack. Claimant also testified that he was directed to replace the weights on the rack or he would not be allowed to return to the weight room on the following day.

Robert Blair was the recreation program leader at Groveland. He testified that Claimant told him that the accident was his own "damn fault,"[1]
that he was being careless, and that he pinched his finger when he lost control of a weight while replacing it on the rack.
Mr. Blair testified that the weight racks had an L-shaped angle iron at the end slanting toward the user so that the weights would not move once placed on a shelf. The weight racks were standard racks which the facility had purchased from an outside vendor; they were not designed, manufactured or altered at the facility. According to Blair, any sized weight could be placed on any shelf. Usually, however, the heavier weights were placed on the bottom shelf because it was awkward to lift a 75-pound weight high enough to place in on the top shelf.


DECISION
The State is responsible for hazards to be foreseen and for risks to be perceived (
Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342), and must maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition under the circumstances (Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997). This standard of care applies to the premises within prison facilities (Bowers v State of New York, 241 AD2d 760). The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of its premises and negligence may not be inferred simply from the happening of an accident (Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850).
In order to establish the State's negligence, Claimant must prove that the condition that caused his injury was dangerous (
Madrid v City of New York, 42 NY2d 1039), and that the State created the condition or had actual or constructive notice of the condition (Bernard v Waldbaum, Inc., 232 AD2d 596). After a careful review of the evidence, I find that the Claimant has failed to meet his burden of proof by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence.
Significantly, Claimant relied on several different theories in his attempt to impose liability on the State. In his Inmate Grievance, Claimant alleged that the State negligently failed to instruct him in the proper way of handling and replacing weights, and in failing to have an instructor present at all times when the room was in use (Exhibit A). In his notice of intention, he alleged that his injuries were the result of unspecified, unsafe recreational conditions and negligent supervision (Exhibit B). In his claim, he alleged that the State failed to post signs regarding the use and replacement of weights on the rack and negligent supervision (Exhibit C).

While this may have been Claimant's first time in the Groveland weight room, it was not his first time lifting weights. According to his testimony, Claimant had handled weights for approximately seven to twelve months at another facility before being transferred to the Groveland facility. Consequently, it is difficult to treat him as a novice to this form of exercise and to accept his contention that it was lack of experience or instruction that caused this accident. As to the allegation that the State should have provided constant supervision of the weight room, the State is simply not required to provide unremitting supervision (
see Leibach v State of New York, 215 AD2d 978).
I do not doubt that the injury was caused when a weight struck and trapped Claimant's finger in some fashion, but there is no probative evidence supporting his theories of liability. Where there was some testimony that there were some weights improperly stored or stacked on top of each other, there was no testimony that the weight that allegedly rolled off the top shelf had been improperly stored or stacked, or to establish how long that condition had existed. It is simply unclear how a 75-pound weight could have rolled off an L-shaped angle iron shelf. Consequently, there was no credible evidence before me to establish that the State was responsible for creating any dangerous condition in the weight room or had actual or constructive knowledge of any dangerous condition. As a result, the claim may not stand.

At the conclusion of trial, I reserved decision on Defendant's motion to dismiss. This motion is now granted, and Claim No. 102460 is dismissed.

All other motions not previously decided are hereby denied.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.


February 10, 2004
Rochester, New York

HON. PHILIP J. PATTI
Judge of the Court of Claims





  1. [1]All quotations are from the Court's trial notes unless otherwise stated.