New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SMITH v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-018-340, Claim No. 106573


After an inmate has been assigned a lower bunk bed for medical reasons, the assignment may not be changed without consulting with medical staff (7 NYCRR § 1701.7[e]). The State is 100% liable for Claimant's injury immediately after his fall from his upper bunk bed assignment.

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: HEATHER R. RUBINSTEIN, ESQUIREAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 14, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant fell on June 29, 2002, getting out of his assigned top bunk bed while incarcerated at Cape Vincent Correctional Facility (hereinafter referred to as CVCF). He hit his back and leg as a result, and now seeks damages from the State.

At trial, Claimant testified that on February 1, 2002, he was issued a medical permit for a bottom bunk. On May 14, 2002, he had a court trip and when he returned to CVCF on June 27, 2002, he was assigned an upper bunk. He told a correction officer in the dorm area that he had a bottom bunk permit. The correction officer told Claimant that he needed a copy of the permit, and Claimant could obtain a copy of the permit at the medical screening that evening. Claimant went to the medical department and received a copy of the bottom bunk permit that evening. Upon presenting the permit to the same correction officer, Claimant was told he would have to take the top bunk that evening because no bottom bunks were available.

Claimant testified that he, again, asked for assignment to a lower bunk the next day, June 28, 2002, and was told there was a waiting list, and he would have to wait his turn. The following day, June 29, 2002, a bottom bunk became available, and Claimant requested it from Officer Haycock. Officer Haycock told Claimant that someone else would be moved there.

At approximately 5:00 p.m., that same evening, Claimant was climbing out of his assigned top bunk by using the locker (no ladders are provided) and his foot slipped. He fell, hitting his upper back on a chair and right leg on the locker. He was taken to the infirmary by stretcher. The inmates carrying the stretcher dropped it on the way. Claimant was admitted to the infirmary with complaints of back pain. Bruises were seen on his right scapula and right rib area and small abrasions were noted on his right leg.

According to Claimant's medical records, he stayed in the infirmary through July 2, 2002, and continued having back pain for a short time thereafter.[1]
Claimant testified he had back pain for approximately two months after this incident. He testified that he currently has no back pain.
Where a medical determination has been made, directing a certain course of action, the failure to comply with the medical direction presents a cause of action sounding in ordinary negligence (
see Mossman v Albany Medical Ctr. Hosp., 34 AD2d 263, 264). Ministerial neglect may also be in issue where there is proof that the State failed to follow its established protocols (see Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7).
Claimant read, without objection, from the orientation handbook he received upon his placement at CVCF. Claimant read from the housing section, which provides in substance, that lower bunk bed assignments are on a "first come first serve" basis. But any inmate assigned to a bottom bunk without medical authorization will be moved to accommodate an inmate with a medical permit for a lower bunk bed.

Although the lower bunk bed permit was not admitted into evidence, Claimant testified that he was issued the bottom bunk permit by the facility doctor on February 1, 2002 and was assigned to a bottom bunk before he left the facility for a Court appearance on May 14, 2002. This was not disputed. Claimant further established, through his uncontested testimony, that after returning to CVCF a bottom bunk did become available on June 29, 2002, and he was not assigned this lower bed, but was told that someone else would be assigned to it. His lower bunk bed permit was not rescinded until September 2002.

Title 7 of New York Codes of Rules and Regulations § 1701.5, requires a medical evaluation to determine whether an inmate being placed in a double cell requires, due to a medical condition, a lower bunk bed assignment (7 NYCRR § 1701.5[c][6]). After an inmate has been assigned a lower bunk bed for medical reasons, the assignment may not be changed without consulting with medical staff (7 NYCRR § 1701.7[e]).

The Court finds that the State acted negligently in failing to place Claimant in a bottom bunk bed upon his transfer back to the facility on June 27, 2002. The State failed to follow the established rules and regulations for assessment of Claimant's suitability for double cell housing and lower bunk bed requirements. Claimant's undisputed testimony established that upon attending his medical screening on June 27, 2002, he obtained and provided a copy of his lower bunk bed permit with the correction officer on duty. Despite this, Claimant was assigned to a top bunk bed. Claimant testified that a lower bunk bed became available on June 29, 2002, but he was still not given a lower bunk bed.

Since no medical testimony was provided, the Court does not find that the back pain Claimant suffered for two months and his need to be reassigned from the masonry program were causally connected to Claimant's fall on June 29, 2002. Claimant did establish he injured his back and leg when he fell. The extent of those injuries, however, was not established since Claimant also fell from the stretcher, after he fell from the upper bunk, on his way to the infirmary. Without medical testimony, the Court cannot determine what injuries were thereafter related to his fall from the upper bunk.

The State is 100% liable for Claimant's injury immediately after his fall from his upper bunk bed assignment. He is awarded the sum of SEVENTY FIVE DOLLARS ($75.00).

ORDERED, that to the extent claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act §11-a(2).

October 14, 2004
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]The records reflect a complaint of back pain on July 29, 2002, from lifting masonry blocks. The proof does not support a finding that this pain was the result of his fall. Claimant's original lower bunk bed permit was due to low back pain.