New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

OCASIO v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-031-522, Claim No. 101143


Claimant demonstrated that Defendant failed to instruct him on proper method of lighting a stove and warn him of the dangers involved in such activity. Claimant awarded $225.00

Case Information

ISRAEL OCASIO The caption has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only proper Defendant.
Claimant short name:
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Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only proper Defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

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Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
New York State Attorney General
BY: WILLIAM D. LONERGAN, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 23, 2005

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See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Israel Ocasio, filed claim number 101143 against the State of New York for negligence relating to injuries he sustained when attempting to light an oven in the mess hall at Collins Correctional Facility ("Collins") on July 15, 1999. I conducted the trial of this matter at Wende Correctional Facility on October 6, 2004.

Claimant was a mess hall cook at the time of incident on July 15, 1999. At 5:15 a.m., Claimant was asked to relight the pilot light of the ovens, which, according to head cook, Linda Priest, go out periodically when the facility conducts checks of its main generator. While Claimant was underneath the oven, he brought a lit piece of paper to the pilot, it burst into flames, causing a first-degree burn to Claimant's left arm and singeing his facial hair. Two staff logbooks indicate an injury to Claimant while trying to light the pilot at 5:15 a.m. (Defendant's Exhibits A and B). Staff on duty in the mess hall sent Claimant to the facility hospital, where he was treated for his injuries.

The Inmate Accident Report documented treatment for a minor burn on Claimant's left forearm (Defendant's Exhibit C). The area reddened, beginning at Claimant's left wrist, and stretching up his arm 3½ inches. Claimant's skin was not broken and he suffered no blisters. The medical staff treated Claimant with Silvadene, wrapped the wound, and instructed Claimant to return in a few days to check the burn and reapply ointment. Claimant returned to his work area after spending approximately 10 minutes in the facility hospital. As instructed, Claimant returned to the facility hospital on July 20, 1999 (Defendant's Exhibit D).

Claimant alleges that he was not properly instructed as to how to light the pilot light on the lower gas oven, and that he was not warned of any danger relating to this activity. He also indicated his belief that there must have been something wrong with the oven because it would not have burst into flames otherwise. Claimant testified that he worked in the mess hall for three to six months before the accident occurred and that, during this time, no one had instructed him regarding how to light the pilot light. Claimant recalled that he was told just prior to the incident to push the gas button and stick a lit piece of paper into it. Claimant admitted that he had seen other inmates light the gas oven during his time working in the mess hall.

Nurse Administrator Linda Koup testified on behalf of Defendant, likening Claimant's first degree burn to a sunburn. Claimant's Ambulatory Health Record (Exhibits D, E) indicates that, prior to the July 15, 1999 accident, Claimant suffered a minor burn on July 5, 1999 on his left forearm and received identical treatment. The burn was documented as covering ½ inch by 2 inches of skin. Claimant testified that this burn was an accident that occurred when he was taking food out of the oven, which he characterized as different than when the oven "blew up" on him.

Linda Priest, head cook at Collins on July 15, 1999, supervised inmates working in the mess hall. She was also responsible for instructing inmates on how to use the equipment. Ms. Priest stood next to Claimant when he attempted to light the pilot on the date of the incident. She testified that inmates are instructed and reminded as to how to use the ovens and how to light them in the event the pilot goes out. In response to Claimant's accusation that he was not instructed properly, Ms. Priest said, "I would have trained him and being right there, I would have shown him how to light the first one and we always remind them how to light an oven." She did not, however, indicate that she specifically recalled providing Claimant with either instructions or warning relating to this task. Interestingly, Ms. Priest indicated that she had never lit the lower oven herself.

Ms. Priest also noted that the pilot light goes out periodically when the facility checks the generator system. According to her, this was not related to any defect in the ovens. Ms. Priest stated that the ovens are inspected regularly and were not in disrepair on the date of the incident. However, Defendant did not present documentation of said inspections. Ms. Priest testified that she did not notice any defects in the ovens prior to July 15, 1999. I find no evidence that the oven was in disrepair or that Defendant failed to properly maintain it.

The State has a duty to provide an inmate who is directed to participate in a work program with reasonably safe machinery and adequate warnings, instructions, and supervision for the safe operation of that machinery (
Callahan v State of New York, 19 AD2d 437, affd 14 NY2d 665), although the State 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).
I find that the State failed to meet its obligation to provide Claimant with adequate warnings, instructions, and supervision (
see Martinez v State of New York, 225 AD2d 877; Rosado v State of New York, 139 AD2d 851). Other than being told to push the gas button and insert an open flame, Claimant received no instructions regarding the proper method of lighting the lower oven, nor was he warned of the risk of being burned. I find that Defendant's failure in this regard was negligent and that this negligence was the proximate cause of Claimant's injuries. Luckily, however, Claimant's injuries were relatively minor, suffering a burn similar to that of a sunburn.
Based upon Claimant's testimony and the other evidence before this Court, Claimant is entitled to an award of $225.00 for the injuries he incurred.

Any and all other motions on which the Court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined, are hereby denied.


February 23, 2005
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims