This claim for personal injury arose on November 17, 2000 in the laundry room
at Fishkill Correctional Facility (hereinafter Fishkill). The trial was
bifurcated and this decision deals only with the issue of liability.
The evidence adduced at trial established that on November 17, 2000 claimant
was incarcerated at Fishkill and was working in the laundry room. Claimant
stated he was housed at Fishkill since 1997 and began working in the laundry
room that same year. His first job was as a sheet shaker and his duties
required him to remove bed sheets from the dryers, shake them out and then fold
Mr. Fortune stated that he became a washing machine operator in late 1997 or
early 1998 and believed he was first assigned to washing machine #1 before being
assigned to washing machine #5 in 1998 or 1999. He stated there were seven
washing machines in the laundry room. Claimant stated he received training on
the machine from Chris Regan, the inmate who was then the machine's operator.
The training consisted of learning how to turn the machine on and off and how to
rotate the drums inside the machine as there are two drums inside machine #5
because it is a large machine. He stated that the civilian supervisor of the
laundry room, Mrs. Pat DeCarlo
did not train him. He conceded that his signature appears on a New York State
Department of Correctional Services Record of Training (Exhibit 17) indicating
he was instructed in the safe and proper use of 60 pound, 100 pound, 200 pound
and 400 pound G.A. Braun washers. Pat Lafone signed the document on May 7, 1998
as the employee who trained the inmate.
Mr. Fortune testified that he was not trained to repair the washing machine but
that Inmate Regan, the inmate laundry room mechanic, did tell him how to
maintain the machine. He was taught how to use a grease gun to grease the
joints of the machine, which he stated are outside the machine. Claimant stated
that he never received a training manual for machine #5, never received
instructions on how to repair the machine and never repaired the machine prior
to November 17, 2000.
Mr. Fortune testified that on November 17, 2000, just after he arrived at the
laundry room, he put a load of wash into machine #5 and turned the machine on.
The motor of the machine was running but he could see through the window on the
front of the machine (see Exhibits 7, 13 and 15) that the drum was not rotating
as it was supposed to. He went to the back of the machine and could see that
the belt was not moving. Claimant stated this had happened on five or six prior
occasions and that Inmate Regan had instructed him to take a rag and dry the
belt when this happens. Claimant believes the rag got caught on the belt and
pulled his hand causing his hand to go around the pulley and injuring his
Mr. Fortune testified that when he walked to the rear of machine #5, the
machine was turned on and the safety cover, which covers the motor and the belt,
was not on the machine, but off to the side of it. He stated that he never had
a problem on prior occasions when he dried the belt.
On cross-examination, claimant stated that prior to the date of this accident
he greased the machine but never changed a belt or took the safety door off the
back of the machine. He also stated that no one ever told him to turn the
machine off if it was not operating properly. He was never told to shut the
machine off before touching the back of the machine. He stated that the safety
cover on the back of the machine had been off several weeks prior to November
17, 2000 and he does not know who took it off. Mr. Fortune further testified
that prior to this accident on the five or six occasions when the machine
malfunctioned he did not turn the machine off before drying the belts.
Avon Long testified on claimant's behalf. Mr. Long testified that he is
currently incarcerated at Woodbourne Correctional Facility and had previously
been housed at Fishkill. He stated that he was housed at Fishkill for seven
years and was there in November 2000. He stated that while housed at Fishkill,
he worked in the laundry room and was already working there when claimant began.
Mr. Long started in the laundry room in 1994 as a sheet shaker and was moved up
to machine operator. In 2000 he was the machine operator of machine #4 while
claimant was assigned to machine #5.
Mr. Long testified that Inmate Regan, claimant and himself were allowed to do
work on the machines. They did whatever maintenance work was required to make
the machines operational. No one trained them, they taught themselves using the
instructor's manual that the laundry room supervisor kept in her office (see
Exhibit A). He stated that in 2000 he changed brake shoes and springs and also
greased his machine. He also stated that Mr. Fortune did the same type of
maintenance work on his machine. Mr. Long testified that he saw claimant use a
rag to dry off the belt on his machine on a regular basis and he saw the safety
cover on the back of machine #5 off the machine periodically prior to November
17, 2000. He further stated that he took the safety cover off his machine when
something inside the machine needed to be cleaned. He stated that the cover
could only be removed with the use of a screwdriver and a wrench. He stated he
was never told that the safety cover could not be removed. Mr. Long stated that
he did not witness the accident on November 17, 2000. He arrived at the laundry
room about 8:10 a.m. and did not see Mr. Fortune at all that day.
On cross-examination, Mr. Long stated that only he, Mr. Fortune and Mr. Regan
did maintenance work on the machines and they were the only ones allowed to take
the safety covers off the machines. He also stated that it was normal procedure
to shut the machine off prior to doing any work on the machine. He stated that
the laundry supervisor, Mrs. DeCarlo, was the one who instructed him to shut the
machine off prior to doing work on it. He stated that the instructional manual
says to turn the machine off before doing any work on it (see Exhibit A, Page
The State called Patricia DeCarlo as a witness. Mrs. DeCarlo stated she worked
for DOCS from October 1983 to October 30, 2003. During that period, she was the
laundry room supervisor at Fishkill. She testified that experienced laundry
room inmates and herself trained new inmates regarding their job duties. One of
the things the inmates were taught was how to turn the machines on and
Mrs. DeCarlo testified that in November, 2000 Inmates Regan, Long and Fortune
did mechanical work on the machines because of their interest and ability. Mrs.
DeCarlo classified claimant as a very good worker. She stated that prior to
November 17, 2000 if a machine began to malfunction, normal procedure required
that the machine be shut down immediately. She stated that the inmates were
aware of this policy because she told them. The witness stated that claimant,
Regan and Long greased the machines, put oil in the motors and changed belts.
She said that claimant was able to install brakes as well. These items were
mostly on the back of the machine, which has a safety cover or door, and the
belts are located inside the safety cover.
Mrs. DeCarlo stated that either Long or Regan trained claimant and she and
claimant signed the Record of Training (Exhibit 17). The witness also testified
that prior to November, 2000, on more than one occasion, claimant asked to have
access to the reference book for parts and repair (Exhibit A).
On cross-examination, the witness testified that after claimant's incident she
looked at machine #5 and noticed that its safety cover was off. She said that
the safety cover is only allowed to be removed if an inmate is working on the
machine. She was not able to recall if the safety cover was off the machine
prior to the accident.
Correction Officer (hereinafter C.O.) Susan Preece testified on behalf of the
State. C.O. Preece has been employed by DOCS for 22 years and has worked in the
laundry room at Fishkill since 1995. She was working the 6:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
shift on November 17, 2000. C.O. Preece testified that there was one inmate
mechanic, Chris Regan, and that Inmates Long and Fortune helped him. She said
these three were the three best workers in the laundry room. They had
initiative, aptitude and enjoyed their work.
The witness testified that if one of the inmates was doing mechanical work on a
machine, they were to shut the machine off and advise either herself or Mrs.
DeCarlo that work was being done. C.O. Preece stated that on November 17, 2000,
claimant came to her desk at about 7:50 a.m. holding his hand up with blood
dripping from it. She called Mrs. DeCarlo who escorted claimant to the medical
clinic. She further testified that later that day, at about 2:00 p.m., claimant
returned to Fishkill from the hospital. As he was getting out of the transport
vehicle, she asked him what happened and he told her he didn't know why he did
it; he said he knew better than to stick his hand in a running machine.
It is well settled that when the State, through its correctional authorities,
directs an inmate to participate in a work program during incarceration, it owes
the inmate a duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace with reasonably safe
equipment with which to work, and adequate warnings and instructions for the
safe operation of such equipment (see,
Kandrach v State of New York
, 188 AD2d 910, at 913; Callahan v State
of New York
, 19 AD2d 437, affd
14 NY2d 665). The State also has a
duty to apprise the inmate of any dangers known to it that the inmate could not
reasonably be expected to discover himself (see, Fitzgerald v State of New
, 28 Misc 2d 283, at 285). The State, however, is not an insurer of the
safety of its premises and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the
happening of an accident (see, Killeen v State of New York
, 66 NY2d 850,
at 851; Condon v State of New York
, 193 AD2d 874). Also, where an inmate
fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course of conduct, the inmate
is required to take some responsibility for his own negligence (see, Martinez
v State of New York
, 225 AD2d 877; Carter v State of New York
AD2d 967; Hicks v State of New York
, 124 AD2d
As the trier of fact, it is the responsibility of the Court to assess the
credibility of witnesses and to determine the weight, if any, to be given to
such testimony (
LeGrand v State of New York
, 195 AD2d 784, lv denied
82 NY2d 663;
Johnson v State of New York
, 265 AD2d 652). The Court found Mr. Long, an
impartial witness, to be a most credible and straightforward witness. The Court
accepts his testimony, which was consistent with the testimony of Mrs. DeCarlo
and C.O. Preece, that he, Regan and claimant were allowed to perform mechanical
work on the machines in the laundry room. The Court also finds credible the
testimony of C.O. Preece, Mrs. DeCarlo and Mr. Long that it was normal procedure
to turn a machine off prior to performing maintenance on it. This testimony
contradicted claimant's testimony that he never performed repair work on the
machine prior to November 17, 2000 and that he was never told to turn a machine
off if it was not operating properly. Therefore, the Court gives no weight to
claimant's testimony on these points.
Based upon claimant's work experience in the laundry room at Fishkill,
including his work repairing the machines, his aptitude and skill for the job as
a mechanic as testified to by Mrs. DeCarlo and C.O. Preece, it reasonably
follows that claimant was aware that the safe operation of washer # 5 required
that he turn the power off prior to drying the belt (see also Exhibit A, Page
215, Belt Replacement and Adjustment). Therefore, the Court finds that the sole
cause for the accident was claimant's knowing disregard for proper safety
procedures in the laundry room. The claim is hereby dismissed. All motions
made at trial, upon which the Court reserved decision, are now denied. The
Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.