New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DICKENS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-019-009, Claim No. 100119


Synopsis


Claimant testified he slipped and fell in puddle of water in mess hall of correctional facility. Based on trial evidence, court found claimant failed to establish the presence of a dangerous condition and, even assuming the presence of a dangerous condition, that claimant failed to establish that the State created or had constructive or actual notice of said condition in time to rectify the condition. Claim dismissed.

Case Information

UID:
2005-019-009
Claimant(s):
DARRYL DICKENS, #97 A 0167 The court has sua sponte amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
DICKENS
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The court has sua sponte amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
100119
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Claimant's attorney:
DARRYL DICKENS, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Joseph F. Romani, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 18, 2005
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision
Claimant, an inmate appearing pro se, alleges that he slipped and fell in a puddle of water on the dining area mess hall floor at the Elmira Correctional Facility due to the failure of the State of New York (hereinafter "State") to follow safety procedures and guidelines. A trial of this claim was held at Elmira Correctional Facility on November 15, 2004. The parties were granted additional time to submit post-trial memoranda with the last such submission having been received by the court on April 1, 2005.[1]


On November 2, 1997, at approximately 5:00 p.m., claimant entered the mess hall dining area with other inmates for their evening meal. Upon entering the mess hall, claimant testified he noticed water on the floor under a table and advised Correction Officer Wilcox who was nearby about the presence of the water. Claimant testified that Officer Wilcox directed him to sit at the table despite the puddle underneath and so he proceeded to the table carefully. Further, claimant testified that during the meal he tried to get a nearby sergeant to clean up the puddle, but to no avail. Thereafter, claimant testified that after finishing his meal he got up, but slipped and fell in the puddle resulting in various personal injuries. On cross-examination, claimant estimated the size of the puddle to be between 20-25 feet long and at least a 1/4 inch deep spanning the length of two tables.


At trial, the State called Correction Officer Wilcox as a witness, one of the correction officers on duty in the mess hall area on the day the accident. Officer Wilcox testified that claimant never complained to him of a puddle on the mess hall floor on the day of this accident and that he was not aware of any puddle under the tables until after claimant fell. Further, Officer Wilcox testified that although food and/or liquids do occasionally spill in the mess hall, they are cleaned up as promptly as possible. Additionally, Officer Wilcox stated that if the puddle had been as large as testified to by claimant on cross-examination, the inmates would not have been allowed into the mess hall area until it was cleaned.


Also at trial, the court viewed a videotape submitted by the claimant showing the mess hall on the date of this accident and during the meal in question. The videotape shows a correction officer inspecting the mess hall before allowing inmates into the area, but the videotape does not clearly show the floor where claimant fell. Although claimant can be seen falling in the videotape, the cause of his fall cannot be identified, nor is there any clearly identifiable discussion between claimant and any correction officer.


It is well-settled that the State is subject to the same duty as applies to any landowner, namely exercising reasonable care under the circumstances in order to maintain its property in a safe condition to protect the safety of persons entering upon its property. (
Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997). However, "[w]hile the State is under a duty to take every reasonable precaution to protect those who are in its institutions, it is not an insurer against any injuries which might occur [citations omitted]." (Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874, 874). In order to establish liability in a slip and fall case, a claimant must prove, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that a dangerous condition existed; that the State either created said dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice thereof and failed to alleviate said condition within a reasonable time; and that said dangerous condition was a proximate cause of the accident. (Dapp v Larson, 240 AD2d 918). It is well established that in order to constitute 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 the defendant's employees to discover it and remedy it. (Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837).

Based on the credible testimony and evidence presented at trial, namely the videotape, the only conclusion the court can reach with certainty is that claimant did fall on November 2, 1997. Whether claimant was caused to fall due to the presence of water or any other substance on the floor, in any quantity, is impossible to decipher from the videotape. Even assuming, arguendo, the presence of water on the floor, the court found that claimant lacked credibility in describing the size of the puddle as ranging from 20 to 25 feet long. Additionally, the court found Officer Wilcox to be credible in denying that claimant ever advised him of any puddle. Consequently, based on this evidence, the court finds that claimant has failed to establish the existence of a dangerous or defective condition.


Even assuming for purposes of argument that the court had found the presence of a dangerous or defective condition, claimant failed to establish that the State had either created or had actual or constructive notice of said dangerous condition. There was absolutely no proof whatsoever indicating the State created this dangerous condition or had constructive notice thereof. Rather, claimant attempted at trial to establish that the State had actual notice of the puddle due to his own warnings. As previously noted, the court finds Officer Wilcox's testimony to be credible that he was not advised of any spill by claimant. Additionally, the court notes that the videotape shows correction officers inspecting the mess hall prior to the entry of the inmates for their evening meal, but does not show any puddle or any correction officer noticing any puddle or anything out of the ordinary. Thus, there is no basis for finding that the floor had been wet for an appreciable length of time so as to permit defendant to rectify the condition. (
Puryear v New York City Hous. Auth., 255 AD2d 138, 139). As such, the court finds that the State did not have actual notice of the dangerous condition.

Based upon the foregoing, the court finds that claimant has failed to meet his burden of proof to establish that a dangerous condition existed at the Elmira Correctional Facility of which the State had notice, either actual or constructive.


For all of the foregoing reasons, the claim is hereby DISMISSED. All other motions on which the court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined, are hereby denied.


ENTER JUDGMENT ACCORDINGLY.

April 18, 2005
Binghamton, New York

HON. FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]Additionally, the court denied claimant's post-trial motion seeking poor person status in order to obtain a free photocopy of his trial transcript. (Dickens v State of New York, Ct Cl, February 8, 2005, Lebous, J., Claim No. 100119, Motion No. M-69601 [UID No. 2005-019-509]). Selected unreported decisions from the Court of Claims are available via the Internet at