New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CAMPBELL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-029-374, Claim No. 100831


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:
Andrew F. Plasse, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBy: Mary B. Kavaney, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 13, 2004
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This claim arises out of a slip and fall accident which occurred in the One Center portion of Fishkill Correctional Facility on February 14, 1998 and is premised upon defendant, State of New York's alleged failure to keep its facility in a reasonably safe condition. As set forth in the claim and proffered at trial, claimant's particular theory is that the State's failure to correct the dangerous condition of water pooling in an area of One Center proximately caused the accident leading to his significant knee injuries.

At trial, claimant testified that on February 14, 1998 he was an inmate housed in the One Center area of Fishkill Correctional Facility. A schematic evidencing the floor plan of that area was admitted upon the parties' stipulation as defendant's Exhibit A. Claimant described the immediate layout of his living area, testifying to a room designated as 1-37 which housed inmates in a cubicle-type living arrangement. He also explained that across the hallway (designated in the schematic as 1-36) was the bathroom which serviced that area (designated 1-34).[1]
He described the bathroom as containing a number of showers as well as a slop sink which was utilized for washing items and mopping the floors.
On the day of his accident, claimant explained that he was returning to his living area (1-37) from another area in the facility. He recalled that he was returning a magazine to another inmate who also was assigned to live in the 1-37 living area which contained five or six cubicle sleeping areas for the inmates. After he dropped off the magazine, claimant explained that he turned and then slipped as he walked, falling down to the floor injuring his knee. Claimant placed the spot where he fell as in the westerly portion of 1-37 about eight to ten feet from the doorway leading out into the hall (1-36) which separated the 1-37 living area from the 1-34 bathroom area.[2]
Claimant could not recall seeing any water either in the hallway or 1-37 before he fell but he did testify, and it does not appear to be in dispute, that the lower part of his pant leg was damp after he fell. He also testified that, as a general matter prior to the day of his accident, it was not uncommon to see collected water in the slop sink and bathroom area (1-34) of One Center.
Claimant also presented the testimony of a former inmate, Michael Walker, who had lived in 1-37 for a significant amount of time prior to the accident and who had heard claimant's fall and witnessed its immediate aftermath. Walker testified that after he heard a bang, he looked and saw claimant lying in the hallway between the bathroom (1-34) and the living area (1-37) with his knee in a twisted position. Walker also testified that he noticed water on the hallway floor after the accident. During his time in the 1–37 area of Fishkill before the accident, Walker testified that he was aware of a problem with the drain pipe of the slop sink of the 1-34 bathroom area. Specifically, he stated that the drain would often leak causing water to collect in the bathroom and what he described as the "main way" area which the Court took to mean the hallway. This problem would be, Walker testified, reported to porters who, in turn, would report it to correction officers. During cross-examination, Walker reiterated that claimant had fallen entirely in the hallway.[3]

Defendant's first witness, Correction Officer Anthony Monzillo, testified that on the day of the accident, he was on floor patrol in One Center.[4]
He explained that after claimant's fall was reported to him by an inmate, he responded to the scene and found claimant lying on the floor in the cubicle (1-37) area about four or five feet from the cubicle area's south wall. As had Walker before him, Mozzilla testified to the common practice of inmates possessing and using water tumblers or plastic glasses to carry drinking water about the facility. While he could not recall any problems with the 1-34 bathroom area, he did acknowledge that claimant's pants were damp below the knee when he responded.
Defendant's last witness was Sergeant Janice Olsen who was working patrol four or, as it was termed, as the "building rover" on February 14, 1998. Having worked at One Center for approximately 10 years, Olsen testified that she was familiar with its layout. She testified that she was not aware of any specific maintenance problems while admitting that she never actually inspected the drainpipe beneath the slop sink in the 1-34 bathroom area.

Olsen recalled that on February 14, 1998 she responded to claimant's accident to assist. Consistent with claimant and Monzillo, she testified that claimant was found on the floor within the 1-37 living area, placing him on the floor towards the back of the cubicle area. She particularly recalled having trouble extricating claimant from the cubicle area, having to lift the stretcher over the cube walls in order to get him out into the hallway. She also testified that she had noticed a small puddle of water in the desk area of the cubicle and that there was also a plastic water tumbler lying on the floor near the area.

The standard of care that applies to the State in its capacity as a landowner is the same standard of care that applies to private citizens who are landowners (see
Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 511; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998) and is applicable to the State in its capacity as the owner of its correctional facilities (see Bowers v State of New York, 241 AD2d 760; Montross v State of New York, 219 AD2d 845). Accordingly, "[t]he State--just as any other responsible, in the operation and management of its schools, hospitals and other institutions, only for hazards reasonably to be foreseen, only for risks reasonably to be perceived" (Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342, 346; see Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998, supra). This duty on the part of the State, however, does not stretch so far as to make it an insurer of the safety of inmates within its correctional institutions (see Casella v State of New York, 121 AD2d 495). Rather, the duty to is to exercise "reasonable care under all the circumstances" (Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874, 874, citing Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 240-241) with the intertwined concepts of foreseeability and notice defining the parameters of that standard (see id).
Based on the aforementioned general principles, it was incumbent upon claimant to establish either that defendant created the defective condition or that it had actual or constructive notice of the water on the floor yet failed to take reasonable steps to eliminate the hazard (see,
Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836; Miller v City of Syracuse, 258 AD2d 947, 947-948, lv denied 93 NY2d 807; Riefler v State of New York, 228 AD2d 1000). This notice cannot be established or proven by evidence merely suggesting "a ‘general awareness' that a dangerous condition may be present" (Piacquado v Recine Realty Corp., 84 NY2d 967, 969). Contrarily, in a claim such as this where the required notice is alleged to be of a constructive nature based upon an alleged recurring condition, a claimant is required to "show by specific factual references that the defendant had knowledge of the allegedly recurring condition" (Carlos v New Rochelle Mun. Hous. Auth., 262 AD2d 515, 516; accord Stone v Long Is. Jewish Med. Ctr., 302 AD2d 376, 377) identifying how long the condition existed as well as how and to whom the notice of the condition was given (see id.). Based on its position as the trier of fact and law and upon the Court's resolution of the credibility of the respective witnesses (see, Raynor v State of New York, 98 AD2d 865), the Court is of the view that these standards were not met here.
Most significantly, there was a failure of credible proof in this case to connect the alleged recurring water problem related to the slop sink in the 1-34 bathroom area with claimant's fall which by all accounts, save Walker's, occurred within the 1-37 cubicle living area. Even assuming for the sake of argument that claimant had established a chronically wet bathroom area, other more credible evidence strongly suggested that this particular accident's origin stemmed from a water spill occurring within the 1-37 area itself. There was no testimony that tended to imply, let alone prove by a preponderance, that the alleged moisture related to the slop sink traveled down the hall and across it into the 1-37 living area.[5]
Claimant clearly had no idea where the water he slipped in came from and Walker, whose testimony differed substantially from all other witness, merely stated that he noticed water in the hallway.
Moreover, there was absolutely no evidence proffered to establish that defendant either created or had notice of this more discrete puddle of water which, based on this Court's view of the credible evidence, was more likely than not caused by another inmate's overturned water container and not connected to the alleged recurrent problem emanating from the slop sink. Although somewhat superfluous, the Court also does not find that claimant's or Walker's general statements regarding the alleged problems in the slop sink or bathroom area or the general statements of notice given to unnamed porters or correction officers was enough to establish that there was a recurrent dangerous condition or that defendant was on notice of it.

In sum, the Court finds, based upon the credible evidence adduced at trial, that claimant has failed to establish what the source of the water was, that the accident was related to the alleged defective condition of the bathroom area and, most significantly, that the State was on notice of any alleged dangerous condition. Consequently, the claim is hereby dismissed and the Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.[6]

April 13, 2004
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] During the course of the trial claimant referred to the designations as I-37, I-36 and I-34. The Court will utilize the number "1" as it appears in the schematic.
[2] What was termed as the doorway actually is an opening out into the hallway that Correction Officer Monzillo described as about 10-12 feet wide (see Exhibit A).
[3] The Court notes that while Mr. Walker appeared to be a credible witness, his version of events differed materially from all other testimony. Thus, the Court concludes that Mr. Walker, while credible, was mistaken as to the particulars of this incident.
[4] After claimant rested, premised on his failure to present a prima facie case of premises liability, the State made a motion to dismiss the claim, upon which the Court reserved decision.
[5] Using the scale provided in the schematic (see Exhibit A) this water would have had to travel well over 20 feet to have been anywhere near the area of claimant's fall.
[6] The State's motion upon which the Court reserved decision at trial is hereby denied as moot.