New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RASCOLL v. CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, #2005-016-077, Claim No. 99093


Claimant failed to prove that because of defendant's negligence, he slipped and fell on a puddle of water on a staircase at the College of Staten Island.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant's attorney:
Kahn, Gordon, Timko & Rodriques, P.C.By: Thomas B. Grunfeld, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Diana Dykes, AAG
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 13, 2005
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This decision follows the trial of the claim of Christopher Rascoll that on October 15, 1997, he slipped and fell on a stairway of the College of Staten Island. At the time, Mr. Rascoll was a student at the college and on his way to an economics class that began at 4:40 or 4:45 in the afternoon. This was to have been his third and last class of the day, all of which took place in Building 2-N.

The economics classroom was located in the basement, and claimant, who had been in the study lounge on the first floor after his previous class ended, used the staircase to get to the lower level. A rubber mat with a raised tread-type surface was permanently affixed to the stairs and landings (see cl exh 3). Rascoll recalled handrails on each side of the staircase; a portion of one is barely visible on the bottom, center of the photograph that is claimant's exhibit 5. Claimant on cross-examination maintained that he was holding onto "the" handrail.

Claimant's description of his accident, in its entirety, was as follows:

Q. Now, did something happen to you on the way down?
A. Yes.

Q. Well, what happened?
A. I slipped on the sixth and bottom step.

According to the college's Accident Report, claimant fell at 4:45 p.m. (cl exh 1). Rascoll testified that he did not see what had caused him to slip, but that afterwards noticed "a puddle of water" that was twelve by six inches, "[l]ess than an inch" deep and brown in color. Claimant stated that the water was on the sixth step - - the last step before the basement level. He added that there was only natural sunlight in the stairwell and that the building lighting, which was on a timer, was off.

Rascoll noted that he saw leaves and flattened cigarette butts on the stairs, but conceded that they had nothing to do with his fall. Persons could access the stairwell leading to the basement from outside Building 2-N, as well as from within it.

As for the weather, claimant stated that "[i]t was overcast, cloudy . . . I don't recall whether it was raining at the time, but it had rained that day." He added that the grounds outside were wet and muddy. Rascoll recalled that he was wearing boots and a backpack. He did not wear eyeglasses for any purpose.

Also taking the stand was Michael Ravija, who at the time was a supervising custodian in charge of 15 to 20 custodians at the college. The testimony of Arthur Butler and Emanuel Denizak, who had custodial responsibilities, was solely via deposition.[1]

Mr. Ravija noted that the florescent lights were on a timer, that he had never received any information as to a problem with them, and he also credibly testified that he had never seen the lights off in the subject area. Nor was lack of lighting mentioned in the Accident Report, which was signed by claimant. Rascoll began classes in February of 1996, and was a full-time student who attended school daily and was in Building 2-N on numerous occasions, yet maintained that he had never seen warnings of any kind when it rained, including the day he fell. Messrs Butler, Denizak and Ravija all testified that when it rained, yellow, inverted V-signs, which were readily available, were put out.

Whether claimant's economics class began at 4:40 or 4:45 (his trial and deposition testimony, respectively), he may have been rushing to class. It did not seem credible that there would be no other students in the stairwell near the beginning of a class in a building that Rascoll described as having heavy student traffic.

Claimant's description of the "puddle" was presented without context. Rascoll was defensive about whether there were wet areas elsewhere on the steps, was unsure on the rain and submitted no weather reports per CPLR 4528. His description of his fall was extremely sketchy, and oddly, even though the photographs in evidence were taken by him (cl exhs 2 through 5), none of them show any of the stairs.

Ravija testified that when it rained or snowed, the steps were checked frequently during the day: "every half - - forty-five minutes, an hour or so." Denizak in his deposition testimony said they were checked every hour, and Butler concurred that the stairwell was checked frequently. In addition, the custodial staff would respond to any complaints from faculty or students.
The defendant State of New York has a duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition (
Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 386 NYS2d 564 (1976)), but it is not an insurer (Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719, 396 NYS2d 113 (4th Dept 1977)). Claimant must establish that a dangerous condition existed and that defendant (if defendant did not create such) knew or should have known of it and had sufficient time to discover and remedy the condition. Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 501 NYS2d 646 (1986); Bernard v Waldbaum, Inc., 232 AD2d 596, 648 NYS2d 700 (2d Dept 1996).
This trier of fact credits the testimony that when it rained at the college, warning signs were in place, the steps checked frequently and any particular problems responded to. Claimant's testimony was contradicted in a number of important areas, contained inconsistencies, and was generally not sufficiently credible.

In view of the foregoing, the claim of Christopher Rascoll (cl no. 99093) is dismissed. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

December 13, 2005
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] Portions of Mr. Ravija's deposition were read into the record.