New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LAMARCHE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-009-162, Claim No. 107532


Synopsis


Claimant’s claim seeking damages for personal injuries resulting from a slip and fall on a wet floor at Mohawk Correctional Facility was dismissed, with the Court finding that claimant failed to establish that the State created a dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice of such a condition.

Case Information

UID:
2006-009-162
Claimant(s):
JORGE E. LAMARCHE
Claimant short name:
LAMARCHE
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
107532
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Claimant’s attorney:
THE PROSKIN LAW FIRM, P.C.
BY: Lisa Anne Proskin, Esq.Of Counsel.
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: G. Lawrence Dillon, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 26, 2006
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
In this claim, claimant seeks damages for personal injuries suffered by him when he slipped and fell on a wet floor at Mohawk Correctional Facility. A bifurcated trial was held on March 29, 2006 at the Court of Claims in Utica, New York, and therefore this decision is concerned only with the issue of liability.
On March 30, 2001, claimant was an inmate in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services, and housed at Mohawk Correctional Facility, residing in Housing Unit 73-C. Claimant testified that at approximately 7:30 a.m. on that date, he was returning to his dorm unit after having breakfast in the mess hall. As he was walking back to his “cube”, he slipped on water and fell. As he fell, he caught his foot under the door of another “cube”. He testified that he was then assisted by another inmate and, after he initially declined medical treatment, Correction Officer Robert Murphy, the officer on duty, sent him to the infirmary.
Claimant testified that he did not realize the floor was wet until after he had fallen, and that there were no signs posted to warn inmates (or others) that the floor was wet and slippery. Claimant further testified that prior to his fall, and as he returned to his dorm following breakfast, he noticed that a rug that was usually laid out in the hallway, was instead rolled up and not in use.
Finally, claimant testified that although it was not snowing on the day that he slipped and fell, it was his recollection that there had been a snowfall the prior day.
It is claimant’s contention that he slipped on water that had accumulated on the floor from snow that had been tracked into the dorm on the boots of other inmates, which had then melted.
Correction Officer Robert Murphy, the officer on duty at claimant’s dorm at the time of this accident, was the only other witness to testify at trial. Although he had no independent recollection of the events that took place on this day, he testified from logbook entries (see Exhibit N) which summarized the activity occurring in that dorm on the day of the accident.
Officer Murphy testified that he came on duty on this date at 6:30 a.m., and that he immediately made rounds in the Housing Unit, including the area where claimant subsequently fell. If any water had accumulated, Officer Murphy testified that he would have reported this fact, and that it would have been so indicated in the logbook. At 6:50 a.m., Officer Murphy testified that he used the public address system to notify inmates of the morning breakfast, and at that time he made another round of the dorm in order to take a head count of the inmates who responded to this notification. According to his testimony, during this round Officer Murphy again walked by the location where claimant subsequently fell, and again did not notice any accumulation of water on the floor. In sum, based on the fact that there were no entries in the logbook to the contrary, Officer Murphy testified that he had not noticed any accumulation of water at the site of claimant’s fall prior to the accident. Otherwise, he would have made an entry in the logbook noting such accumulation.
Furthermore, in direct contravention of claimant’s testimony, Officer Murphy testified that the rug located just inside the entrance was properly in place, since it was standard operating procedure to have the rug placed near the entranceway during wintertime conditions.
When it acts as a property owner, the State is held to the same standard of care as any private landowner (Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997). The State must act as a reasonable person in maintaining its property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury and the burden of avoiding the risk (Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506). Such standard of care applies to the premises within prison facilities (Bowers v State of New York, 241 AD2d 760; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874). But the State is not an insurer, and negligence may not be inferred solely from the happening of an accident (Tripoli v State of New York, 72 AD2d 823; Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719). To prevail on his claim, a claimant must therefore establish that a hazardous condition existed, that the State either created the condition or had actual or constructive notice of it, and that it failed to then take reasonable steps to eliminate, or at least neutralize, the dangerous condition within a reasonable time (Miller v City of Syracuse, 258 AD2d 947). Constructive notice applies if a defect is visible and apparent, and existed for a sufficient period of time for the defendant to discover and remedy the condition before the accident occurred (Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836).
As noted above, as an essential element in these types of claims, a claimant must establish that the State had either created a dangerous condition, or had actual or constructive notice of such condition. In this particular claim, there was no testimony to even remotely suggest that the State created the slippery condition which caused claimant to fall and suffer his injuries. Furthermore, based on the testimony of the only two witnesses to testify at trial (claimant and Officer Murphy), there had been no prior complaints of water accumulating in this area, nor was there any evidence of any prior incidents of anyone slipping or falling due to accumulated water or slippery floors in this area of the dorm unit.
Additionally, even claimant testified that when he went to breakfast at approximately 6:50 a.m., he did not notice any water on the floor, and Officer Murphy testified that during his various rounds of the unit prior to this accident, he never noticed any accumulated water.
As a result, the Court must find that claimant has failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the State had actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition prior to claimant’s accident.
Even if the Court were to credit claimant’s testimony that the rug near the entranceway (which presumably was utilized to collect snow and water from the boots of inmates as they entered the unit) was rolled up and not in place, the failure of the State to have a rug in this location, in and of itself, is woefully insufficient to establish that the State created a dangerous condition. Aside from the fact that there are several plausible explanations as to why the rug was rolled up, there was no evidence to suggest that the failure to have such a rug in place was the proximate cause of water accumulating in the area in which claimant fell.
Accordingly, after carefully considering all of the evidence presented at trial, this Court finds that claimant has failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the State either created a dangerous condition, or had actual or constructive notice of such condition. Therefore, this claim must be, and hereby is, dismissed.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

September 26, 2006
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims