New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-031-518, Claim No. 105129


Synopsis


Claimant failed to demonstrate existence of dangerous condition, notice of such alleged condition to Defendant, or proximate cause. Claim based on premises liability is dismissed

Case Information

UID:
2004-031-518
Claimant(s):
RAY WILLIAMS
Claimant short name:
WILLIAMS
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
105129
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
RENÉE FORGENSI MINARIK
Claimant's attorney:
RAY WILLIAMS, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
New York State Attorney General
BY: TIMOTHY P. MULVEY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 8, 2004
City:
Rochester
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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Decision
Ray Williams filed claim number 105129 on October 26, 2001, alleging that the State of New York was negligent in failing to remedy a dangerous condition in the Cayuga Correctional Facility ("Cayuga") gymnasium that caused him to slip and fall on October 27, 2000. I conducted a trial on this matter on September 23, 2004, at Auburn Correctional Facility.

The following individuals testified: Claimant Ray Williams, Correction Officer William May from Cayuga and Recreational Program Leader II Martin Raftis from Cayuga.

Having reviewed the evidence presented and weighed the testimony given, and upon due deliberation I now make the following findings of fact:

Claimant testified that on October 27, 2000, he was in the gymnasium using a heavy punching bag that was torn and that material had leaked out of the bag and onto the gymnasium floor. Claimant did not see what he described as "gray woolly material" on the floor when he started to use the heavy bag. Claimant testified that he had been using the heavy bag for approximately two minutes and had not yet started to perspire when he slipped on the gray woolly material and fell onto the gymnasium floor. Claimant did not see the approximately two to three handfuls of dark gray woolly cloth material that was scattered under and around the heavy bag until after his fall. Claimant did not notice any perspiration on the floor after his fall and Claimant claims that Correction Officer May did not come near him or the heavy bag after his fall.

Due to his fall, Claimant asserts that he incurred a concussion and a laceration above his left eye that resulted in a one and a half inch permanent visible scar. Claimant's CAT scan results were negative, but he continued to receive follow-up care at the infirmary which included EKG procedures for the blackouts that he allegedly continued to experience for approximately two years after the incident.

Claimant testified that he had asked an unidentified civilian in the gymnasium for the heavy bag to be replaced about two weeks prior to the incident but that he had not alerted any correction officers to the condition of the bag. Claimant stated that he was with other unidentified inmates when they had asked unidentified correction officers when the bag would be replaced.

Correction Officer William May testified that he was a gymnasium activity rover at the time of the incident. Correction Officer May observed Claimant punching the bag, saw his feet come up from under him and watched him hit his head on the radiator. He stated he approached the Claimant and observed what appeared to be perspiration on the floor near the heavy bag. He testified that he did not notice any material from the heavy bag on the floor after the incident, nor did he observe any material leaking from the bag in the days prior to the incident. Claimant had not reported any problems with the heavy bag to him prior to the incident. Correction Officer May stated that no other inmates had complained to him about material leaking from the heavy bag and that he had not seen any other inmates slip or fall around the heavy bag in his four years working in that position.

Recreational Program Leader II Martin Raftis testified that he had worked in his position for five years and that he had other civilian employees who worked under him. The civilian employees ran the gymnasium but the correction officers were there to watch over the inmates. Mr. Raftis testified that he had not been aware of any material leaking from the heavy bag and was unaware of any moisture problems accumulating around the heavy bag in the gymnasium. Mr. Raftis did not recall any roof leaks or maintenance problems that would have resulted in moisture accumulating on the floor around the heavy bag.

Mr. Raftis testified about different safety measures that were in place regarding inmates' use of the gymnasium. He stated that there was a policy which prohibited street footwear in the gymnasium. In this regard, inmates were required to carry sneakers with them and change into the sneakers before entering the gymnasium. Inmate porters dust mopped the gymnasium floor prior to each shift and an officer would go through and perform a fire and safety check prior to each shift. If there had been dark gray woolly material on the floor, it would have been brought to the attention of the civilian staff. Mr. Raftis also stated that either he or his staff performed a daily inspection of the equipment for safety. Mr. Raftis was unaware of being notified by any inmates, correction officer, or civilian employee that a problem existed with the heavy bag.

It is well established that "[t]he State - just as any other party . . . is 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 [citations omitted]) and with respect to the safety of persons on its property, the duty of the State is one of reasonable care under the circumstances (see Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506). However, the State 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, 851; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874).
In order to establish liability in a slip and fall case, Claimant must demonstrate, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that a dangerous condition existed; that the State either created this dangerous condition, or had actual or constructive notice of the condition and failed to correct the problem within a reasonable period of time; and that this dangerous condition was a proximate cause of the accident (
Goldman v Waldbaum, Inc., 297 AD2d 277; Dapp v Larson, 240 AD2d 918).
Claimant has not demonstrated, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that a dangerous condition existed. Correction Officer May did not see any dark gray woolly material from the heavy bag on the floor prior to or after the incident, and Recreational Program Leader II Martin Raftis, who was responsible for daily inspections, was not aware of any problems with the heavy bag. Further, the State had safety procedures in place, which required all inmates to wear sneakers while in the gymnasium, the floors to be dry mopped prior to each shift, the correction officers to perform a fire and safety check prior to each shift, and the Recreational Program Leader II or a member of his staff to inspect the equipment each day.

Further, Claimant concedes that he was aware that the heavy bag was ripped and that the dark gray woolly material leaking from the bag had been an ongoing problem. A Claimant "cannot complain of a condition that ‘can be readily observed by a reasonable use of one's senses.' "
Moody v The State of New York, #2002-016-018, Claim No. 85537 (quoting Zaffiris v O'Loughlin, 184 AD2d 696, 585 NYS2d 94, 95 [2d Dept 1992]). Claimant should have inspected the bag prior to its use to see if it had been fixed and he should have looked on the floor around the heavy bag for dark gray woolly material.
Claimant has not demonstrated, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that the State had actual or constructive notice of the condition of the heavy bag. The Claimant did not notify a correction officer about the ripped bag, he could not identify the staff member whom he told, and he could not identify the other inmates he claimed he was with when they told correction officers about the leaking heavy bag. Recreational Program Leader II Raftis and Correction Officer May testified that they were not aware of the ripped heavy bag and were not aware of dark woolly material on the floor around the heavy bag.

Additionally, Claimant has not demonstrated, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that this dangerous condition was a proximate cause of the action. Claimant asserts that the dangerous condition was the dark gray woolly material that leaked from the heavy bag, but he has presented no evidence that anyone else saw this dark gray woolly material. Correction Officer May testified that he saw perspiration near the heavy bag which could have belonged to the Claimant or another inmate, and could have caused Claimant's fall. This is an alternative credible theory as to the reason why the Claimant slipped and fell while he was working out with the punching bag.

For the reasons stated above, Claimant has failed to demonstrate that the State was negligent by a preponderance of credible evidence, and therefore his claim is dismissed.

Any and all other motions on which the Court may have previously reserved decision or which were not previously determined, are hereby denied.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

November 8, 2004
Rochester, New York

HON. RENÉE FORGENSI MINARIK
Judge of the Court of Claims