New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SAEZ v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-015-421, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-68597


Synopsis


Court denied late claim relief to inmate who allegedly fell on ice covered walkway at Washington Correctional Facility Farm due to transitory nature of cause of the fall and the prejudice resulting from allowing a stale and unwitnessed fall to be pursued.

Case Information

UID:
2004-015-421
Claimant(s):
KENNY SAEZ
Claimant short name:
SAEZ
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
NONE
Motion number(s):
M-68597
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
Kenny Saez, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Stephen J. MaherAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 18, 2004
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Movant's application for late claim relief pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) is denied. The proposed claim seeks to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by movant when he slipped and fell on an icy walkway on January 4, 2004 at approximately 2:45 p.m. while an inmate at the Washington Correctional Facility Farm in Washington County, New York. The movant allegedly sustained an injury to his right hand as a result of the fall which he promptly reported to the officer in charge of movant's work crew.

Subdivision 6 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act permits this Court, if the applicable Statute of Limitations set forth in article 2 of the CPLR has not expired, to allow the filing of a late claim upon consideration of the following factors: "whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; whether the state had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; whether the state had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; whether the claim appears to be meritorious; whether the failure to file or serve upon the attorney general a timely claim or to serve upon the attorney general a notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the state; and, whether the claimant has any other available remedy".

The motion filed on June 1, 2004 is timely in that a personal injury claim arising from the alleged negligence of the State is governed by the three year Statute of Limitations set forth in CPLR § 214 (5).

Turning to the statutory factors, this Court has broad discretion in deciding a motion to permit the late filing of a claim (Ledet v State of New York, 207 AD2d 965), and the statutory factors are not exhaustive or one factor controlling (Matter of Gavigan v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1117). The most important factor is whether the potential claim has merit, as it would be a futile exercise to permit litigation of a clearly baseless lawsuit (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254).

Movant alleges that the delay in filing the claim stemmed from his status as a layman ignorant of the legal requirements imposed by the Court of Claims Act. He also cites his lack of access to legal counsel and the need for a translator. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse (Griffin v John Jay College, 266 AD2d 16) and limited access to legal resources does not excuse one from the timely service and filing requirements of the Court of Claims Act (see Sandlin v State of New York, 294 AD2d 723). "Equally without merit is the excuse that there is a language barrier (Rodrigues v State of New York, 143 AD2d 993; Figueroa v City of New York, 92 AD2d 908)" (Lau v State of New York, Ct Cl, December 24, 2001 [Claim No. None, Motion No. M-64086, UID # 2001-028-574] Sise, J., unreported[1]).

The intertwined issues of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice will be considered together. The proposed claim alleges that movant fell and was injured at 2:45 p.m. and that the incident was promptly reported to the officer in charge at 3:00 p.m. The officer is not identified in either the claim or the papers submitted in support of the motion. Although the papers allege that prison medical personnel were aware of movant's injury those persons are not identified and no incident reports or medical records were submitted. Under these circumstances it is clear that the movant has failed to demonstrate that the defendant received timely notice of the essential elements of the claim and was afforded an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the incident.

It is equally clear that the State would be prejudiced by movant's delay in serving and filing a claim. The condition which allegedly caused movant's injuries, ice on a walkway, was transitory in nature and neither the proposed claim nor the motion papers allege that the incident was witnessed, no witnesses were identified and no witness statements were received. The issues of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice weigh against granting the motion.

Regarding the issue of merit, the proposed claim appears to present a potentially viable cause of action for negligently caused personal injury. In order to establish a meritorious claim it is movant's burden to show that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous or legally defective and there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid claim exists (see, Rosenhack v State of New York, 112 Misc 2d 967; Santana, Matter of, v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1). In the Court's view movant has met that minimal burden.

As to the final factor, it does not appear that movant has any other legal remedy available under the circumstances and this factor weighs in favor of granting the application.

Consideration of all of the statutory factors leads this Court to deny the motion.


August 18, 2004
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:
  1. Notice of motion dated April 27, 2004;
  2. Affidavit of Kenny Saez sworn to April 27, 2004 with exhibit;
  3. Affirmation in opposition of Stephen J. Maher dated June 30, 2004 with exhibits.

[1]Unreported decisions from the Court of Claims are available via the internet at