Claimant seeks damages for personal injuries she sustained on July 2, 1999
during her incarceration at Bayview Correctional Facility (Bayview). The trial
of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of
Bayview is located on the West Side Highway between 19
th and 20th Streets in Manhattan. The facility is bordered by a chain link
fence. A 36 inch to 42 inch sidewalk separates the fence from the street. Due
to construction along the highway, there was an orange link barrier strung on
wood posts on the road side of the sidewalk.
On July 2, 1999,
claimant was performing an outside work detail with another inmate which
required them to move a dumpster filled with garbage 150 feet from the side door
of the facility to the northeast corner of 19th Street. The dumpster measured
37 inches wide, 74 inches long and four feet deep, and was constructed of
one-eighth inch thick steel. It had four wheels on casters that operated
independently. Each spun freely vertically and rotated 360 degrees
horizontally. The turning of the wheels depended on the ground surface. There
was no steering mechanism and no brakes. Sleeves on the ends of the dumpster
were used by a forklift to dump garbage.
Claimant pulled the dumpster while the other inmate pushed it. Claimant had not
been trained for this assignment. Prior to July 2, 1999, claimant had moved the
dumpster numerous times to 20th Street and twice to 19th Street. Proceeding
along the sidewalk, there was only a two and a half or three inch clearance on
both sides and claimant had previously expressed concerns about the activity to
Correction Officers Archer and Jimenez and Sergeant Johnson because of the
difficulty in keeping the dumpster wheels straight.
Claimant described herself as five feet, two inches tall and 130 to 140 pounds.
On July 2, 1999, the inmate pushing the dumpster, Tucker, was five feet, four
inches tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. The sidewalk was cracked and
littered with brown sand and wood. Claimant was walking backwards, toward 19th
Street, pulling the dumpster with her hands in the sleeves while looking over
her shoulder, checking the clearance. She could not see over the mound of
garbage and yelled to Tucker to slow down. As they moved, the dumpster veered
from side to side and then headed to the right. Claimant tried to straighten
its course, but her hand became caught between the dumpster and a pole that
protruded from the fence and further narrowed the available space for
Correction Officer Lawrence A. Smith testified that on July 2, 1999, he
supervised the outside detail. He explained that the outside detail was a work
program in which a group of inmates were responsible for
bringing supplies into the facility and removing garbage from within the
facility. On July 2, 1999, claimant was assigned to pull the dumpster from the
building to meet a garbage truck at the corner of 19th Street. Prior to his
shift, Smith visually inspected the dumpster only to the extent of checking that
its wheels were attached. Had Smith observed a deficiency, he would have
completed and submitted a maintenance request form.
Daniel S. Burdett, a consulting engineer and accident reconstructionist,
offered expert testimony on behalf of
claimant. He has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, a Masters of
Science in Industrial Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration.
Burdett visited Bayview and viewed comparable dumpsters. He took measurements
of the equipment and the relevant outside areas. Burdett noted that the
distance from the exit door to the place of claimant's injury was 118 feet.
Looking at photographs of the scene, he explained that the lines on the concrete
sidewalk were expansion joints that should have been filled with concrete.
Instead, there were spaces one inch deep and one inch wide making it harder for
the two inmates to maneuver the dumpster (Ex. 12). The sidewalk had a one to
two percent grade from 20th to 19th Street which caused the dumpster to increase
its speed as it was being pushed.
According to Burdett, the procedure followed by Bayview to move the garbage
from the facility to 19
th Street was a departure from good and acceptable engineering standards. In
his view, the lack of training given to the inmates was irrelevant because no
amount of training could have made the inherently dangerous procedure safe. The
person pulling the dumpster was walking backwards with a heavy object being
pushed toward her. The direction of the dumpster was solely dependent on how
the wheels rotated and was affected by the sidewalk debris. With a sidewalk
narrowed by construction, having only two and one-half inches clearance on
either side, there was no margin for error.
claimant and Tucker had no means of effective communication. Once the dumpster
veered to the right, a person pulling it would instinctively try to correct its
course. However, the dumpster was a heavy object and had great velocity.
Burdett further testified that there was nothing claimant could have done to
control the dumpster. In Burdett's opinion, hand trucks should have been used
to remove garbage from Bayview to the corner of 19th Street, even if it required
the inmates to make 20 trips.
Defendant rested without presenting any evidence
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 Muhammad v State of New York
AD3d 807; Maldonado v State of New York
, 255 AD2d 630). 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 York
, 28 Misc 2d 283 at 285; Rosado v State of New York
139 AD2d 851 [State's duty is to provide care commensurate with claimant's
capacity to provide for his own safety]). The State, however, is not an insurer
of inmate safety 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). 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).
Upon consideration of all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses and
observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that the sum of the
credible evidence established that defendant was negligent. The Court found the
testimony of claimant's expert to be most persuasive. Indeed, the circumstances
of claimant's work assignment were fraught with risks of injury to claimant
which should have been apparent to defendant. Specifically, the confines of the
sidewalk, coupled with the lack of ability of the inmates to communicate
effectively while attempting to negotiate the loaded dumpster, rendered
claimant's work assignment unsafe. Moreover, there was no evidence that
claimant was negligent in attempting to safely perform the task assigned to her.
Accordingly, this Court finds defendant 100 percent liable for claimant's
injuries. All motions not heretofore ruled upon are DENIED. A trial on the
issue of damages will be held as soon as practicable.
LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.