New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MARRIA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-009-152, Claim No. 93918


Claimant, an inmate at Watertown Correctional Facility, was injured when he slipped and fell into a large kettle of extremely hot water while cleaning oven hoods. The Court found the State 70% liable due to its failure to maintain a reasonably safe workplace.

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):

Claimant’s attorney:
BY: Gideon J. Karlick, Esq.,Of Counsel.
Defendant’s attorney:
Attorney General
BY: Edward F. McArdle, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney General
Of Counsel.
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 21, 2006

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

In this claim, claimant, an inmate in the custody of the State Department of Correctional Services, seeks to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly suffered by him when he fell while working in the facility kitchen on July 16, 1995, while incarcerated at Watertown Correctional Facility. On that date, claimant was a mess hall worker, and he was cleaning the hoods over ovens in the prison kitchen when he slipped and fell into a large kettle of extremely hot water, suffering burns to his legs.
The trial of this claim was bifurcated, and this decision therefore addresses solely the issue of liability.
Claimant was the only witness to testify at trial. He testified that while incarcerated at Watertown Correctional Facility, he was employed as a baker and mess hall worker. One of his responsibilities included the cleaning of the stainless steel hoods located over the ovens in the prison kitchen. Claimant testified that he had been performing these duties for approximately two weeks prior to the date of this incident. He further testified that he had not received any written or oral instructions from facility personnel, but had learned how to perform this task by observing another inmate.
Claimant testified that in order to clean these hoods, he had to move an available table into position so that he could reach the hoods when he climbed up onto the table .
On the day of the incident, claimant moved the table into position for his cleaning duties. On that day, however, the table, after being moved by claimant, ended up next to a large stainless steel cooking pot that was located on the floor. Claimant testified that this pot was not in the same location that it had been for the prior two weeks, but that it had been moved to its new location by personnel at the correctional facility. When claimant stepped up onto the table, he slipped, and fell into this pot, which was filled with extremely hot water. Claimant testified at trial that the pot was covered with a lid, but when he fell onto the pot, the lid, which was unsecured, tipped upwards, causing claimant to fall into the pot. When he fell, the lower parts of both of his legs were severely burned.
Claimant also testified that since the kettle was covered, he did not know that there was anything in it, and in particular, did not know that it contained hot water.
Claimant’s testimony was, in essence, unrefuted. The only disputed fact of any significance is whether the kettle was covered at the time of this incident. Defendant’s attorney produced an affidavit sworn to by claimant on February 18, 2002 (received into evidence as Defendant’s Exhibit B) in which claimant stated that this kettle had been left completely uncovered on the day of the incident, which is contrary to his trial testimony.
A transcript of the deposition testimony of Correction Officer Richard Warner was also received into evidence at trial (see Exhibit 1). Correction Officer Warner did not witness the incident, but was immediately called to the area when he heard claimant’s screams. A review of his testimony confirms that claimant was assigned to clean the hoods in the kitchen and that he was in the process of performing this task when he fell. Correction Officer Warner stated that the pot into which claimant fell was freestanding, approximately two to three feet in diameter, and approximately four feet high. Correction Officer Warner also confirmed that this pot had been temporarily moved into its new location by maintenance personnel at the facility since it was going to be replaced. In his deposition, however, Correction Officer Warner made no mention as to whether this pot was covered at the time.
It is well-settled that the State has a duty to exercise reasonable care in providing for the safety of inmates participating in work programs, and to provide them with a reasonably safe place to work (Palmisano v State of New York, 47 AD2d 692; Callahan v State of New York, 19 AD2d 437, affd 14 NY2d 665). The State, however, is not an insurer of inmate safety (Maldonado v State of New York, 255 AD2d 630), and inmates who have been injured in correctional facilities are not entitled to the full range of protection afforded by the Labor Law of the State of New York (Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910). However, when the State directs an inmate to perform work, the inmate is entitled to a workplace that is reasonably safe under the prevailing circumstances (Kandrach v State of New York, supra).
In this particular matter, it is undisputed that claimant was properly performing his duties in cleaning the hoods over the ovens when he slipped and fell into the kettle of hot water, suffering his injuries. Furthermore, since the testimony unequivocally establishes that the kettle had been moved into its position by maintenance personnel at the facility, the Court finds that a dangerous condition was created by the State, and that this condition was a proximate cause of the injuries suffered by claimant. In other words, the placement of a kettle with extremely hot water in the immediate area where claimant was required to stand on a table to perform his work duties created a foreseeable risk of injury, and as a result, the State breached its duty to provide claimant with a reasonably safe place to work. The State must therefore be held liable for the injuries sustained by claimant in his fall.
The Court must therefore consider whether any comparative fault should be attributed to claimant, since an inmate who fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course of conduct must bear some responsibility for his own negligence (Carter v State of New York, 194 AD2d 967; Hicks v State of New York, 124 AD2d 949). In this regard, the State relies upon claimant’s inconsistent statements as to whether this kettle was actually covered at the time of this incident. It is the State’s contention that if the kettle was uncovered, claimant should have been aware that it contained hot water, and that claimant was therefore negligent when he decided to proceed with his work in an unsafe area.
The Court finds that claimant, who had worked in this kitchen for approximately two weeks cleaning the hoods, should have realized the likely possibility that this pot, whether covered or not, contained extremely hot or boiling water. In any event, claimant was certainly aware of the presence of the kettle when he stepped onto the table that he was using for his cleaning duties. By climbing up onto the table, claimant disregarded the potential danger posed by the presence of this kettle adjacent to his work table. The Court therefore finds that claimant’s actions played a direct part in causing his injuries.
Based upon the foregoing, the Court finds that the defendant State of New York is 70% responsible for the injuries suffered by claimant in this accident, and that claimant is 30% responsible for his injuries.
The Clerk of the Court is hereby directed to enter an interlocutory judgment on the issue of liability in accordance with this decision. This claim will be scheduled for trial on the issue of damages as soon as practicable.

March 21, 2006
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims