New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ARNOLD v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-019-002, Claim No. 105458


Synopsis


Case Information

UID:
2004-019-002
Claimant(s):
ANDREA E. ARNOLD
Claimant short name:
ARNOLD
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
105458
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Claimant's attorney:
CAPASSO & MASSARONIBY: John Seebold, Esq., of counsel
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Joseph F. Romani, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 5, 2004
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant, Andrea E. Arnold, brings this claim alleging she was injured due to the negligence of the State of New York (hereinafter "State"), when she fell on a snow and ice-covered sidewalk located on the campus of the State University of New York at Cobleskill (hereinafter "University"), on January 14, 2000. The trial of this claim was held in the Binghamton District on November 6, 2003 and was bifurcated. Consequently, this Decision addresses the issue of liability only.


Friday, January 14, 2000, was the last day of the winter intersession for the University in Schoharie County, New York. At trial the claimant testified that classes were scheduled to resume on Monday, January 17, 2000. Consequently, on the morning of January 14, 2000 at approximately 9:45 a.m., claimant decided to travel to the University campus and visit the campus bookstore in an attempt to purchase books for the upcoming semester. It appears that on January 14, 2000, about 1 1/2 inches of snow had fallen and there was approximately 9 inches of snow on the ground at that time from a prior storm. (State's Exhibit A, pg 26). It does not appear that the temperature ever rose above freezing. On the morning of the accident, claimant drove from her home to the campus. She parked her vehicle in a lower parking lot near Bouck and Wheeler Halls, and upon exiting her vehicle walked on the sidewalk toward Bouck Hall where the bookstore was located, together with the student center. The sidewalk that the claimant traversed had not been entirely cleared and had not been salted and was, according to claimant's testimony, covered with packed snow and ice approximately two inches thick.


After entering Bouck Hall, claimant discovered that she was unable to purchase the required textbooks and decided to return to her vehicle following the same route. Even though claimant had previously noted that the sidewalk was covered with packed snow and ice on her way into the bookstore, she continued to walk down the sidewalk on her return to her vehicle. By comparison, claimant testified at trial that the campus roadway adjacent to the parking spots was passable and had been plowed and sanded. Claimant testified that it was possible to walk in the parking lot area and avoid the snow and ice-covered sidewalk which she had traversed both to and from Bouck Hall, but felt it was safer to stay on the sidewalk because she did not want to encounter any vehicular traffic which might be passing through the parking lot. Claimant continued down the sidewalk at which point she slipped and fell backwards onto the ice-covered walkway. Claimant lifted herself up and continued to traverse the sidewalk toward her vehicle. She fell a second time, and upon the second fall twisted her right leg and heard what she described as a "popping" or "cracking" sound.[1]
A stranger from a nearby vehicle summoned Senior Groundsman Robert Barlow, who by chance was located in front of Bouck Hall spreading salt at the time, approximately 60 to 90 feet away.

Claimant was covered with blankets to keep warm and a call was placed to the University Health Center. Emergency Medical Technician Brian Holmes arrived at the scene and testified that he noticed what appeared to be a displaced kneecap in the claimant's right leg. Claimant was placed into an ambulance and taken to Schoharie Bassett Hospital where she was treated for a dislocated right kneecap.


Michael Santulli, a University Police Officer employed on the University Campus, also arrived on the scene to provide assistance. Mr. Santulli confirmed claimant's testimony by stating that although the surface of the sidewalk was covered with packed snow and ice needing attention, there were some clean or bare spots. He further confirmed that Senior Groundsman Robert Barlow was on salting detail clearing the sidewalks in front of the campus bookstore. He also confirmed that the parking area where claimant had parked her vehicle and adjacent to the sidewalk where claimant fell was fairly clear and clean. He also testified that it would have been possible for the claimant to walk on the roadway or in the parking lot and return to her car rather than traverse the ice and snow-packed covered sidewalk.


Robert Barlow, a senior groundsman at the University, testified that he was working on the date of the claimant's accident. He testified that the University consists of 750 acres with approximately five miles of road surface, 15 acres of parking area and four miles of sidewalk. Mr. Barlow and/or his crew are responsible for maintaining and keeping these areas passable, open, and traversable. He testified that on January 13, 2000, a major snow had fallen all day long and through the night into January 14, 2000. He had four groundsmen and two extras working around the clock, attempting to keep the roads, sidewalks and parking areas open. At approximately 9:30 a.m. on January 14, 2000, he was in front of the bookstore at Bouck Hall salting and clearing the sidewalk. A passerby directed his attention to the claimant who was lying on the ground approximately 100 to 150 feet away. Mr. Barlow testified he left his truck, found the claimant on the ground complaining of right-knee pain. He then returned to his vehicle to call University Police and got a blanket and covered the claimant. He remained in the area until emergency personnel and University Police arrived who then attended to the claimant. The witness testified that the normal procedure for the grounds crew on the University Campus is to plow all roadways, sidewalks, and parking areas first and then salt. Mr. Barlow indicated that they do not place salt down until the areas have been plowed. He testified that he was working his way toward salting the sidewalk upon which claimant fell. The witness testified that he had been working around the clock along with the rest of the grounds keeping crew and just had not gotten to that location yet. He further testified that he believes in the previous 48 hour period that at least nine to ten inches of snow had fallen and the weather was extremely cold.


Claimant alleges that she sustained her injury on January 14, 2000, as a result of the negligence of the State in failing to keep the sidewalk traversable and free of ice, water, and snow accumulation, including the failure to warn of the presence of same.


When the State is sued in its capacity as landowner, as here, the same rules apply as if a private landowner were involved, namely the State must have exercised reasonable care to maintain its property in a safe condition in view of the relevant circumstances. (
Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 511; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998). More specifically, claimant must establish that the defendant landowner created a dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice of the condition and failed to take steps to alleviate said condition within a reasonable period of time which was a proximate cause of the injuries alleged. (Dapp v Larson, 240 AD2d 918).

In cases involving winter conditions, such as here, neither a landlord's failure to remove all ice and snow nor the existence of a patch of ice is deemed presumptive proof of negligence. (
Hobbs v State of New York, 55 AD2d 710, 711). Also pertinent here is the axiom that an owner is afforded a reasonable time to take corrective action after the cessation of a storm that causes a dangerous condition. (Simmons v Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 84 NY2d 972). Stated another way, reasonable time to take appropriate remedial measures is measured after a change in the weather that created the dangerous condition in the first instance. (Downes v Equitable Life Assur. Socy. of U.S., 209 AD2d 769; Boyko v Limowski, 223 AD2d 962). Finally, the winter weather related dangerous condition must be established as inherently different from those types of winter weather conditions ordinarily found in a given locale. (Williams v City of New York, 214 NY 259, 263-264; Schwabl v St. Augustine's Church, 288 NY 554).
From the testimony presented at trial, the court is satisfied that the State University Campus was obviously suffering from the same wintery weather conditions that all of the Cobleskill area was laboring under on January 14, 2000. The court is satisfied that over the two days prior to claimant's accident approximately 9 inches of snow had either fallen or was already on the ground. The testimony establishes that all grounds keepers and maintenance personnel, plus additional emergency personnel had been working nonstop around the clock to remove snow and ice on the roadways, parking areas, and sidewalks of the University. As testified to by Mr. Barlow, there is an orderly planned progression of work to accomplish this task and with limited manpower and equipment it cannot all be done simultaneously.


On the facts presented at trial, the court agrees with the State that the actions of the maintenance crew were well organized, methodical, and reasonable under the circumstances, as they were doing their very best to keep the University roadways, parking areas, and sidewalks open and traversable. As correctly pointed out by the State, with 4 miles of sidewalks, 5 miles of roadway, and 15 acres of parking area, the University grounds keeping crew was doing their best with the limited number of workers and equipment to clear the University of snow and ice as quickly as circumstances permitted. As such, the court is satisfied that the efforts of the University's ground crew, and therefore the State, were all taken in an organized orderly planned fashion, within a reasonable time after the cessation of the winter snow. The actions of the SUNY Cobleskill grounds crew were reasonable and responsible under the circumstances particularly in light of the weather prevailing during the prior 24 hour period. (
Simmons, 84 NY2d 972; Downes, 209 AD2d 769).

Based upon the foregoing, the court is satisfied that the State acted reasonably and responsibly in attempting to keep the roadways, walkways, and parking areas free and clear of ice following the cessation of the winter storm. Consequently, Claim No. 105458 should be, and hereby is DISMISSED.


Any motions upon which the court previously reserved, or which were previously undecided, are hereby denied.


ENTER JUDGMENT ACCORDINGLY.

May 5, 2004
Binghamton, New York

HON. FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the court's trial notes.