New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DEVODIER v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-018-276, Claim No. 103577


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:
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: G. LAWRENCE DILLON, ESQUIREAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
January 9, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

A trial on the issue of liability was held to determine if the State should be held responsible for an injury to claimant's left hand, allegedly incurred when he was repairing his bed which he claims the State failed to repair.

On September 22, 2000, claimant was an inmate at Midstate Correctional Facility (hereinafter referred to as Midstate), and transferred into a veteran's dorm (1F) where he shared a cube with three other inmates. Claimant testified that from the day he moved in he had trouble with his bed which was designated as bed 29B.[1]
The side rail of the spring frame was bent as was a bracket that connected the frame to the footboard. Claimant said when he sat on the bed the frame would often disconnect from the footboard making the bed unstable. He had trouble sleeping in it starting the first week after his transfer and complained to the correction officers in the dorm, specifically Correction Officers Jones, Garlick, Hemsley and Czternastek.
Within approximately one week after claimant arrived at the dorm, he recalled being in the correction officers' office (the "bubble"[2]
) when Officer Jones completed a work order requesting that claimant's bed be repaired. Claimant continued to ask the correction officers about the repair after the work order was submitted but received no information. On October 9, 2000 at approximately 10:00 p.m. claimant said his bed frame disconnected from the footboard. Claimant attempted to reconnect the footboard, as he had done many times before, but his hand got caught. When he pulled his hand free, it was stiff and numb. He did not report his injury at that time, but waited until the next morning to request emergency sick call. He eventually saw an orthopedic surgeon at SUNY Health Science Center (hereinafter University Hospital) for treatment.
On cross-examination, defendant's counsel asked how claimant's hand was injured as stated in claimant's medical records. The nurse who completed claimant's ambulatory health record from Midstate Infirmary for his emergency sick-call visit on October 10, 2000, wrote that claimant had injured his hand while moving a bunk. Claimant testified that this description was incorrect. The medical records from University Hospital, when claimant saw an orthopedic surgeon, reflect that claimant's hand was injured when he jerked it out after it had gotten caught between a heavy object and the wall. Claimant indicated that this was also incorrect and suggested that maybe the doctor had misunderstood him. Claimant also did not recall that on the morning of October 10, 2000 he was previously scheduled for a "lab call out" at the infirmary, as the records indicate, insisting that his visit was the result of his request for emergency sick call.

Claimant called one of his cube-mates, Robert Ayala to testify. Mr. Ayala recalled claimant consistently having trouble with his bed and overheard him complain to officers on the first and second shift. On October 9, 2000, Mr. Ayala said claimant's headboard dislodged and claimant jammed his finger while attempting to reattach the headboard. He also testified that he was present when Officer Jones came to the cube to inspect the bed and complete a work order. Mr. Ayala said Officer Jones wrote the work order by claimant's bed.

Claimant entered into evidence, as Exhibit 1, a deposition of a prior inmate, Philip Mahoney, pursuant to CPLR 3117(a)(3)(ii).[3]
Philip Mahoney testified that he saw a work order for repair of a bed on 1F while he was working in general maintenance in the fall of 2000. He knew of claimant's injury and had been told by claimant that his bed was broken. Mr. Mahoney could not give the dates when he saw the work order but seemed to think it was before claimant was injured, although he could not be sure how many days before the injury he saw it. Mr. Mahoney never saw claimant's bed.
The State called Correction Officers Joseph Whittaker, David Jones, Deborah Hemsley, William Fernalld and Stan Czternastek as well as Fire and Safety Officer Richard Stine and Maintenance Supervisor Kermit Pearl. Virtually all of the correction officers testified that they were familiar with the bed assembly and described it in terms similar to claimant. None of the correction officers received any complaints from claimant regarding his bed, although they all acknowledged such a complaint could involve inmate safety.

Officer Whittaker testified that when an inmate is assigned a new dorm location a correction officer and the inmate check the bed and locker for problems. If problems are noted, a work order is completed by the officer at that time. The work order is then signed by a sergeant; one copy is kept on the housing unit, and two copies are sent to maintenance for processing. An entry should also be made in the logbook, a book kept in the officers' "bubble" noting that a work order was completed. Officer Whittaker also testified that if an inmate makes a complaint about a mechanical type of problem, such as claimant's alleged problem with his bed, a correction officer would check out the problem and complete a work order. The work order would be made out even if the correction officer did not find the problem. An entry regarding the complaint would also be made in the logbook. According to Officer Whittaker, if an inmate suffers an injury, that would also be entered in the logbook and, depending upon the severity, a sergeant notified. Office Whittaker, as did all of the officers who testified, reviewed the relevant pages of the 1F housing unit logbook[4]
and failed to find any entry regarding a complaint made by claimant. Officer Jones testified that claimant made no complaints to him regarding his bed, and he never filled out a work order to repair claimant's bed. Officer Jones also testified that he completed all work orders in the office and not the dorm area, as testified to by Mr. Ayala.
Correction Officers Whittaker, Fernalld and Czternastek testified that all inmate injuries are recorded in the logbook. The logbook does not contain any entry for October 9, 2000 reflecting any injury to claimant. On October 10, 2000, it contains an entry that claimant had a lab[5]
call out at 6:00 a.m. This normally refers to a previously scheduled medical appointment; however, claimant's ambulatory health records[6] reflect examination of an injury to his left ring finger that same morning at 7:05 a.m. Claimant saw a facility doctor later that day.
Due to the severity of claimant's injury, Fire and Safety Officer Richard Stine was directed to investigate. Officer Stine testified that he checked claimant's bed a day or two after claimant's injury. He noted no deficiencies although on cross-examination, he thought there was some bending of the bracket connection on the bed in a photograph taken on December 27, 2001,[7]
more than a year after claimant's injury. Officer Stine also said he looked for a work order requesting repair of claimant's bed and found none.
Maintenance Supervisor Kermit Pearl testified about the process for repairs at Midstate. As the correction officers testified, Mr. Pearl explained that when a complaint is made or a need for repair is noted, a correction officer completes a work order form. That form must be signed by a sergeant and two copies of it are sent to maintenance. Each morning a maintenance supervisor reviews the work orders that come in and gives them to a clerk who inputs the information into the computer program and assigns it a number. The work order is then assigned by the maintenance supervisor to a tradesman who effects the repair. The work order is returned to the maintenance office when the work is complete.

Mr. Pearl's office searched their records for a work order requesting repair to bed 29B in 1F dorm. A search was performed manually, reviewing all the paperwork orders, as well as a computer search and no such work orders were found for this bed. If a work order for bed repairs is received, the repairs are usually effectuated the same day.

On cross-examination, after reviewing the photographs of the bed, Mr. Pearl also thought there appeared to be a slight bending of the bracket and frame rail.[8]
He also acknowledged that if a work order is not assigned a number by the clerk it cannot be found in a computer search.
Claimant took the stand in rebuttal, and testified he did not seek medical attention for his injury on October 9, 2000, but on October 10, 2000, he did go to emergency sick call.

The law requires that the State maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all of the circumstances (
Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 513) and this requirement applies to prison facilities (Bowers v State of New York, 241 AD2d 760). Yet the State is not an insurer of the safety of inmates in its correctional facilities, and the mere happening of an accident does not permit an inference of negligence (see Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850, 851; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874; Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719, 720). To succeed, claimant must prove that the State either created a dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice of the condition and failed to correct it within a reasonable time (Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836; Goldblatt v State of New York, 72 AD2d 886; Rinaldi v State of New York, 49 AD2d 361); the dangerous condition must also be shown to be the proximate cause of claimant's injury.
In evaluating the evidence presented, the Court must review each piece of evidence and weigh the testimony of each witness to assess whether claimant has established the State's negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. Here, the Court finds claimant has failed to meet his burden.

The inconsistencies between claimant's testimony and the other witnesses has resonated with the Court, which finds claimant's versions of the facts incredible. Although claimant insisted the descriptions of the cause of his hand injury in the medical records were incorrect, it is striking to the Court that both the infirmary and the orthopedic surgeon got it wrong. Moreover, it is implausible to this Court that every officer working on 1F failed to note claimant's repeated complaints regarding his broken bed. Even if one or two officers were derelict in their duties, it seems unlikely that every officer would fail to make a record of one of claimant's complaints in the logbook. The Court also finds it suspect that despite claimant's repeated complaints, none of the four officers who testified had any recollection of claimant complaining to them regarding this bed; including Officer Jones who allegedly completed a work order for the bed repair, which, ironically, could not be located.

Claimant's witness, Mr. Ayala, presented even less credible testimony than claimant. Mr. Ayala was vague about times and recalled that the headboard, not the footboard, as claimant had testified, disconnected. He also testified that Officer Jones was at claimant's bed when he completed the work order, while Officer Jones testified work orders are always completed in the office.

The Court is not persuaded that claimant's bed was even broken, since Officer Stine checked claimant's bed within 48 hours after his injury and found nothing wrong with it. The photographs taken months later are not indicative of the condition of claimant's bed on October 9, 2000. In any event, the Court is unconvinced that claimant's hand was injured while he was repairing his bed. Claimant has failed to prove every element of his cause of action: that a dangerous condition existed, that the State had notice, or that the condition caused his injury. The claim is DISMISSED. All motions not previously ruled upon are hereby DENIED. LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

January 9, 2004
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Exhibit A-4.
[2]All quotes are from the trial transcript, tapes or the Court's trial notes.
[3]The witness was deposed by claimant's attorney with the Assistant Attorney General present but was not questioned by the Assistant Attorney General. The Court signed a subpoena which was served on the director of the center where Mr. Mahoney was housed at the time of trial. The director notified the Court and the Attorney General's Office that Mr. Mahoney would not be present on the first day of trial but a question remained regarding his appearance on the second day. An attempt at reaching the director by phone proved fruitless and the trial ended without the witness's appearance.
[4]Exhibit E.
[5]Exhibit E.
[6]Exhibit C.
[7]Exhibit A-2.
[8]Exhibit A-2 and F respectively.