New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HAWLEY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK , #2004-030-019, Claim No. 106271


Synopsis



Case Information

UID:
2004-030-019
Claimant(s):
RICHARD HAWLEY
Claimant short name:
HAWLEY
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
106271
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Claimant's attorney:
RICHARD HAWLEY, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERALBY: MARY B. KAVANEY, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 28, 2004
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Richard Hawley, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 106271 that Defendant's agents negligently caused him to suffer personal injury while he was an inmate at Downstate Correctional Facility (hereafter Downstate) because of a dangerous condition in the storage room of the Downstate officers' mess hall. Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on April 23, 2004.

Claimant testified that on March 21, 2002 he was working in the officer's mess hall in Downstate when he was sent to the back to get another jar of honey from the storage room. He slipped on something. As he tried to break his fall, he grabbed onto a rack of shelves containing jars of other food stuffs. The shelf shook and a glass jar full of olives fell to the ground. He then fell on the broken glass. He did not recall anything that occurred thereafter, except being taken to the facility infirmary. He suffered what is now a permanent scar on his face.

On cross-examination, Claimant confirmed that he had been working dispensing coffee and tea in the officers' mess hall as his job assignment for approximately two weeks, but had worked in the mess hall in one capacity or another for some time. Claimant could not say what he slipped on as an initial matter, but did notice the broken glass, and water and olives after he had fallen. On that day he had been in the storage room earlier and had not noticed anything on the floor. Had anything been present on the floor earlier, rules and regulations would have required that he advise a porter so that it could be cleaned up. The storage room itself has a door that is always ajar and there is no one assigned to guard the door.

No other witnesses testified and no evidence was submitted.

Although the State has a duty to protect inmates from foreseeable risks of harm, it is not the insurer of inmate safety. Its duty is to exercise "reasonable care under the circumstances . . ." [
Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241 (1976) (citation omitted)], to protect against foreseeable risks of harm. Assuming that the State did not create the dangerous condition, a Claimant must show that the State had actual or constructive notice of the condition and failed to act reasonably to remedy it. Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837 (1986). Creation of a dangerous condition constitutes actual notice. Lewis v Metropolitan Transportation Auth., 99 AD2d 246, 249 (1st Dept 1984), affd 64 NY2d 670 (1984). With respect to constructive notice, any ". . . defect must be visible and apparent and it must exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit . . . [a defendant] to discover and remedy it . . . (citation omitted)." Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d at 837.
Claimant presented as a credible individual, who was performing a simple task as part of his job assignment in the officers' mess hall when he slipped on something he could not identify in the storage room. Unfortunately, it is only those foreseeable dangerous conditions which are not remedied within a reasonable time which may establish liability on the State's part
[id], assuming that proximate cause and actual damages are proven as well. Claimant has failed to show what dangerous condition there was, that the Defendant had been aware of the dangerous condition and thus had actual notice in order to have an opportunity to cure the defect, or that the Defendant should have been aware of a dangerous condition.
Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss based upon Claimant's failure to establish a
prima facie case, and upon which the Court reserved decision at the close of trial, is hereby granted, and Claim Number 106271 is hereby dismissed in its entirety.
In addition to the cause of action arising out of his fall, the claim further arguably alleges a cause of action arising out of Claimant's placement in protective custody. No evidence was presented at trial on this cause of action. Consequently, the cause of action is dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

June 28, 2004
White Plains, New York

HON. THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Judge of the Court of Claims