New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

REID v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-018-468, Claim No. 103813


Synopsis


The Defendant lacked actual or constructive notice of the defect and therefore, the claim is dismissed.

Case Information

UID:
2005-018-468
Claimant(s):
TERRENCE REID
Claimant short name:
REID
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
103813
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
DIANE L. FITZPATRICK
Claimant's attorney:
HARDING & MOOREBy: James P. Harding, Esquire
Defendant's attorney:
ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: G. LAWRENCE DILLON, ESQUIREAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 5, 2005
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant filed and served a claim seeking damages for injuries he sustained when he slipped in a puddle of water on the hallway floor while incarcerated at Mid-State Correctional Facility (hereinafter Mid-State). He claims the State's negligence was the cause of his injury. The case was bifurcated and this decision relates solely to liability.

There is little dispute about the facts involving Claimant's fall. On September 22, 1999, Claimant was housed in the 2G Dormitory at Mid-State and had resided there for approximately three years. He testified that he went to his room to go to bed an hour or two before "lights out."[1]
At 12:45 a.m., while walking down the hall toward the bathroom, Claimant's leg slipped out from under him. He reached out for the wall with his left hand in an attempt to stop himself from falling and cut his left hand on one of the fire extinguishers which was hanging there. After midnight, the only light in the hallway was from the exit signs. Correction Officer Robert O'Leary and inmate Dorell Knight witnessed the fall and both testified consistently with Claimant. Mr. Knight helped Claimant up and Correction Officer O'Leary called for medical assistance. Claimant was taken to the infirmary and then sent out to a hospital for stitches. In the dim light, Claimant did not see any water on the floor until after he fell.
From the location of the water on the floor, Correction Officer O'Leary determined that the water had leaked from a locked storage closet next to the shower area in the bathroom. This storage closet was used to store paint and other supplies. Correction Officer O'Leary could not remember the last time he had been in that closet prior to Claimant's fall. Officer O'Leary testified that when he opened the closet door there was considerable water damage. Paint was peeling and plaster was falling, the floor and walls were wet. Correction Officer O'Leary called the Fire and Safety Officer, Wayne Maxwell, who took photographs of the closet[2]
and Officer O'Leary completed a work request form.[3] Afterward, Officer O'Leary noted the events in the housing unit logbook.[4]
On the night of Claimant's fall, Correction Officer O'Leary worked as the Housing Unit Officer, his usual 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift. He made rounds at 11:00 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. At 11:05 p.m., he did a fire and safety check and at midnight he did a master count - going through the dormitory to count the inmates. Each of these activities required that he walk down the hallway where Claimant fell, but he did not see any water on the floor. He did recall that it rained heavily that day.

Dorell Knight, also an inmate at Mid-State, testified about seeing Claimant fall. He said he mopped up the water and could see it was coming out from under the bathroom door. He also testified that a week or two before Claimant fell, he had seen a puddle of water in the same area on a rainy day. He reported it to the officer on duty, who was not the regular officer but a relief officer, who investigated the source. According to Mr. Knight, the water on that earlier occasion was coming from the same location, a storage closet in the bathroom. Mr. Knight testified after reviewing the pictures of the closet, in evidence,[5]
taken on September 22, 1999, that the condition of the closet looked the same on that earlier occasion. Mr. Knight helped mop the water up at that time too.
The State called Correction Officer Michael Rogers, a 2G Housing Unit Officer, who worked the 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. shift. He would usually relieve Correction Officer O'Leary. He testified that Officer O'Leary had never told him of water on the floor in the unit prior to Claimant's fall, although Officer O'Leary would not necessarily mention such an occurrence to him. He also said that the storage closet was only opened about once every three months to get painting supplies. He could not remember the last time he was in that closet before Claimant's accident.

Wayne Maxwell, the Relief and Fire and Safety Officer on duty that night, said he had double-checked Correction Officer O'Leary's inmate count that night at 12:05 a.m., and also walked the hallway where Claimant fell. There was no water on the floor. He had never been notified of a leak or wet floor on 2G prior to Claimant's accident. Mr. Maxwell took the photographs of the closet in evidence (Exhibits 4 and 4-A).

Joseph LaTour, the area sergeant for Claimant's housing unit, also testified. Any issues involving the health and safety of the inmates in Housing Unit 2G or any maintenance issue, including a water leak, should be brought to his attention. Sgt. LaTour must sign any work orders for repairs. He did not recall any leaks in 2G being reported to him prior to Claimant's accident.

The State has a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect those in its institutions from injury (
see Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874). As a landowner, the State owes a duty to keep its premises reasonably safe in view of all the circumstances (see Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 513; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241). The State, however, is not an insurer and negligence may not be inferred solely from the happening of an accident (see Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850; Tripoli v State of New York, 72 AD2d 823). To establish liability, it is Claimant's burden to show a dangerous condition existed which the State either created or had actual or constructive notice of and which proximately caused his injury (see Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836; Herman v State of New York, 63 NY2d 822). The issue here is one of notice. The photographs indicate a long-standing leak existed in this closet. Claimant seeks to establish the State's notice of this leak and resulting water on the hallway floor through Mr. Knight's testimony. Accepting Mr. Knight's testimony as accurate, the relief officer, a State employee, became aware of the leak in the closet approximately two weeks before Claimant fell when he opened the storage closet door to reveal the evident damage. At that time the dangerous condition, water on the hallway floor, was immediately mopped up. The evidence that this storage closet leak caused a build-up of water on the hallway floor, which was observed by a State employee two weeks before, does not prove the State had actual notice of the dangerous condition that caused Claimant to fall. A general awareness that a dangerous condition may exist is insufficient to constitute notice of the particular conditions which caused injury (see Piacquadio v Recine Realty Corp., 84 NY2d 967; Gordon, 67 NY2d at 838; Jordan v Irwin, 284 AD2d 190; Baumgartner v Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 251 AD2d 358).
To prove constructive notice, "a defect must be visible and apparent and it must exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit defendant's employees to discover and remedy it," (
Gordon, 67 NY2d at 837). Here, one correction officer walked by the exact location where Claimant fell approximately 40 minutes before his accident, and another walked the same hallway approximately 15 minutes before Claimant fell, at a time when there was minimal activity in the housing unit and there was no water on the floor. The presence of the water was not there for a sufficient length of time to find that Defendant should have discovered and cleaned it up before Claimant's fall (cf., Negri v Stop and Shop, 65 NY2d 625).
Constructive notice may also be found if there is proof of a recurring dangerous condition of which the State had actual notice. The evidence must show an "ongoing and recurring dangerous condition existed in the area of the accident which was routinely left unaddressed," (
see David v New York City Housing Auth., 284 AD2d 169, 171; O'Connor-Miele v Barhite & Holzinger, Inc., 234 AD2d 106, 107; Colt v Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., 209 AD2d 294). The landowner must be aware of the dangerous condition in order to charge constructive notice of each recurrence of the condition (see Stone v Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Inc., 302 AD2d 376, 377; Hammer v K-Mart Corp., 267 AD2d 1100, lv denied 95 NY2d 757). Here, with the evidence establishing that the leak in the storage closet caused water to accumulate on the hallway floor only once before Claimant's accident, the State cannot be deemed to have had constructive notice that this dangerous condition would recur.
Therefore, the claim is DISMISSED. All motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby DENIED. LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.


May 5, 2005
Syracuse, New York

HON. DIANE L. FITZPATRICK
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]"Lights out" was at midnight.
[2]Exhibit 4 and 4-A.
[3]Exhibit 3 and C.
[4]Exhibit 6 and F.
[5]During direct examination, Claimant's counsel actually referred to the two photographs as 4A and 4B, the exhibits are actually 4 and 4A.