Claim for damages for injuries sustained as a result of a fall at SUNY Purchase
was dismissed. Claimant failed to establish that negligence of defendant was a
proximate cause of the fall.
Claimant Arlene Kiprais seeks damages for injuries she sustained on November
23, 2002 at approximately 10:15 p.m., when she fell while descending an exterior
staircase at the State University of New York at Purchase (SUNY Purchase). The
claim of William Kiprais, claimant's husband, is derivative. Claimants contend
that inadequate lighting was a proximate cause of Mrs. Kiprais' fall as she was
unable to discern the landing from the steps and lost her balance. The trial of
this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of
Mrs. Kiprais testified that on the night of November 23, 2002, she and her
husband went to the 8:00 p.m. performance of "Forbidden Broadway" at the SUNY
Purchase Performance Arts Center (PAC). The PAC is a two-story building with a
concert hall on the first floor and several theaters on the second level.
"Forbidden Broadway" was performed in the Pepsico Theater on the second floor of
the PAC. Claimant had been to the PAC several times and was generally familiar
with the layout of the building.
After the show, claimants exited the theater and ushers, wearing SUNY Purchase
insignia, directed the patrons through the upper lobby toward an exit that
opened onto a pedestrian mall. Claimants walked with the other patrons to a
stairway, approximately eleven feet wide, which, they later learned, led to a
parking lot. Mrs. Kiprais was not familiar with this particular stairway
because, on all of the prior occasions, she had entered and exited the PAC from
the main entrance into the first floor lobby.
When Mrs. Kiprais reached the top of the stairs, she held on to the handrail
on her right side and then slowly descended. Mr. Kiprais testified that he was
to the left of his wife and was not holding on to any handrail. Mrs. Kiprais
testified that she could see only partially down the stairs because of the
number of people. As she proceeded, Mrs. Kiprais kept looking down at the steps
and the people in front of her. The stairway had a series of landings. Mrs.
Kiprais described the approach to the third landing as dark and crowded. Mr.
Kiprais testified that, as they proceeded down the
it was getting darker making it
impossible to differentiate the steps from the landings. As Mrs. Kiprais placed
her right foot on the landing, she lost her balance and fell. She testified
that she thought there was another step. She stated there was hardly any
lighting and it became progressively darker as she went down the stairs. Mr.
Kiprais described the area near the landing as very dark causing someone to feel
their way rather than see. As Mrs. Kiprais fell, her right hand pulled off the
Mrs. Kiprais was wearing rubber soled, comfortable, flat, tie shoes. Although
she was on numerous medications, she maintained that she had no side effects
from them and felt fine that evening. Mr. Kiprais assisted his wife and
transported her to the emergency room at Sound Shore Hospital.
On November 24, 2002, Mr. Kiprais reported the accident to the SUNY Purchase
and later returned to the scene to take
photographs (Exs. 32-38, 40, 50). He noted that the nearest light to the
stairway was a post fixture with five stanchions (Ex. 65).
Nelson Castilla testified that in November 2002, he was employed as a police
officer at SUNY Purchase. On November 29, 2002, he prepared an incident report
based upon information furnished by Mr. Kiprais (Ex.
Castilla, who is no longer working at
SUNY Purchase, had a vague independent recollection of the event and did not
remember the physical layout of the area.
David Phillips testified that he has been employed at SUNY Purchase for 25
years, initially as an electrician and then as Electrical Supervisor for
Facilities Management. In 2002, he supervised three electricians and two
helpers. Phillips was familiar with the PAC and both indoor and outdoor
lighting at SUNY Purchase. He explained that the mall circles the upper level
of the PAC and that there are four similar staircases leading down from the
mall. Phillips testified that each stairway had eight railings. Originally,
there were lights under the rails. The left railing had two 30 watt bulbs and
the right had two 75 watt bulbs. There were no railings on the landings. After
1986, maintenance and repair were discontinued on these lights because better
and brighter lights were installed on poles. The new pole fixtures had five 250
watt bulbs. In the vicinity of the accident, three 250 watt bulbs were directed
toward the stairway. Additionally, the stairway was further illuminated by
fixtures along the street, approximately 30 feet from the bottom of the
Inspector Cindy Markus Jones testified that she has been employed by the SUNY
Purchase Police Department since 1988 and has been an Inspector since 2001. She
described the four stairways leading from the mall to the ground below by
compass directions. However, she could not describe any differences between the
Northwest stairway and the Southwest stairway, e.g. she did not know their
slopes, composition or individual wear and tear.
The State has a duty to use reasonable care in maintaining the property in a
reasonably safe condition to prevent the occurrence of foreseeable injuries
(see Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241). "Particularly, ‘[a]
landowner whose property is open to the public is charged with the duty of
providing safe means of ingress and egress, which includes a duty to provide
adequate lighting' " (Tarrazi v 2025 Richmond Ave. Assoc., 296 AD2d 542,
citing Shirman v New York City Tr. Auth., 264 AD2d 832, 833). While the
State has a duty to warn the public of any latent dangers that are not readily
apparent (see Walter v State of New York, 185 AD2d 536), claimant
is bound to see that which could have been observed by a proper use of her
senses (see Coote v Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., 234 AD2d
(Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719, 720). Claimant must establish:
the existence of a foreseeable dangerous condition; that the State created the
condition or had either actual or constructive notice of the condition; that the
State failed to remedy the condition within a reasonable time; that such
condition was a proximate cause of claimant's accident; and that damages were
sustained (see Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67
NY2d 836; Ligon v Waldbaum, Inc., 234 AD2d 347; Mercer v City of New
York, 223 AD2d 688, affd 88 NY2d 955). A landowner will not be held
liable for conditions inherent in the nature of the land that could reasonably
be anticipated by its users (see Nardi v Crowley Mar. Assoc., 292
AD2d 577, 577-78).
Claimants argue that inadequate lighting made it difficult or impossible for
Mrs. Kiprais to discern the edge of the steps from the landing and that
defendant created or had constructive notice of such condition by virtue of the
abandonment of the lighting under the handrails. Claimants' attorney sought to
introduce into evidence an accident that occurred on August 10, 2000 at 1:41
p.m. on the Southeast stairway. Claimants argue this was a prior similar
accident because in that case another elderly woman had complained of difficulty
in discerning the edge of the steps from the landing and she too fell while
descending. This Court notes that the August 10th accident occurred on a
different stairway in the early afternoon and not at night. Even assuming that
all four staircases in that area were identical, as designed, there was only one
potentially prior similar accident in the five years prior to Mrs. Kiprais'
fall. The Court finds this one prior accident to be insufficient in
establishing that the State had constructive notice of a dangerous condition
(see Zeigler v Wolfert's Roost Country Club, 291 AD2d 609).
Upon review of all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses testify
and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that claimants have
failed to establish that defendant was negligent and that such alleged
negligence was a proximate cause in Mrs. Kiprais' fall. Rather, it appears that
Mrs. Kiprais' fall was not due in any part to any negligence of defendant.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 107266.