Claimant seeks to recover damages sustained by him when he was injured in
an industrial accident on March 15, 2002 at Auburn Correctional Facility
(hereinafter Auburn), where he was then incarcerated. Claimant was cleaning
scrap from the back of a press in the “blanking
at the facility (part of the process involved in the manufacture of license
plates) when another inmate started the press while claimant’s hand was
still in the “cove” area of the press. Claimant suffered severe
injuries when his hand was caught under the “die”, resulting in the
amputation of his left hand and part of his left arm, midway between his wrist
The trial of this claim was bifurcated, and this decision
therefore addresses solely the issue of liability.
At the outset of this
trial, the parties entered into certain stipulations which were on the record.
The parties agreed that on the day of the accident, a plexiglass guard and
shutoff had not been installed, and therefore were not in place, to the part of
the machine in which claimant was injured. The parties also agreed that if such
guard and shutoff had been installed, the accident could not have occurred. The
parties further stipulated that the manufacturer of the press, prior to the
accident, had provided the defendant with various manuals, documentation, and
regulations pertaining to its operation and safety.
Dr. Igor Paul
testified at trial as claimant’s expert in engineering. He testified that
a “point of operation guard” should have been installed at each and
every point where one could enter the machine. Specifically, Dr. Paul testified
that a guard and interlock system should have been installed at the rear access
point where claimant accessed the machine and was injured.
testified that notices and manuals provided by the manufacturer placed the State
on notice of its obligation to provide proper guarding mechanisms, and that such
guards were both economically and practically feasible to install. If such a
guard and interlock system had been installed as directed by the manufacturer,
Dr. Paul testified that it would not have been possible for the claimant to
access the rear of the machine without first removing the guard. Had the guard
been removed, the interlock safety device would have automatically shut off all
power to the press, and the press could not have been operated until the guard
was properly replaced. As a result, Dr. Paul concluded that claimant’s
accident could not possibly have occurred if a guard and interlock safety device
had been installed prior to the accident.
Warranty (Exhibit 1), the Press Safety and Operations Manual (Exhibit 2)
and the Press Service and Parts Manual (Exhibit 3) were all received into
evidence at trial. These documents all contain warnings and notices to the
purchaser of the press that “point of operation” safeguarding was
the responsibility of the purchaser. The Press Safety and Operations Manual
specifically notified the purchaser (i.e., the State) that “[s]afety
guards and devices should be installed and tested to make it impossible for
press operators to place their hands or any part of their bodies under the slide
or into any other hazardous area of the machine.” (See Exhibit 2,
Pursuant to the stipulations previously referred to, it has
been established, without dispute, that on the day of this accident, a guard and
interlock safety device were not in place on that portion of the machine where
claimant was injured. Based upon the testimony of claimant’s expert set
forth above, as well as the stipulations, it has also been established that had
such a guard and safety device been in place, it would have been impossible for
this accident to occur in the manner in which claimant was injured.
Claimant’s expert further confirmed that the type of guard which was
appropriate for this machine was both economically and practically feasible, and
that such a guard has been used quite extensively on these types of machines.
Finally, the warranties and manuals provided by the manufacturer to the State
establish not only the State’s obligation to install such a guard and
safety device, but also that the State had been placed on notice of this
obligation prior to the accident in which claimant was injured.
well-settled that the State, through its correctional facilities, has a duty to
exercise reasonable care in providing for the safety of inmates participating in
work programs, and to provide them with reasonably safe equipment (Kandrach v
State of New York
, 188 AD2d 910; Callahan v State of New York
AD2d 437, affd
14 NY2d 665; Muhammad v State of New York
, 15 AD3d
807). Although an inmate who has been injured in a correctional facility is not
entitled to the full range of protection afforded by the Labor Law, 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
In this matter, it is patently obvious
that defendant did not fulfill this duty and woefully failed to provide
claimant, and other inmates in the “industry” program at Auburn,
with reasonably safe equipment. Defendant not only acknowledges that a guard
and interlock safety device were not present on the press in which claimant was
injured, but also concedes, through the testimony of claimant’s expert,
that such a guard should have been in place at the time and, if so, its presence
would have prevented this accident from ever occurring.
acknowledged failure to provide reasonably safe equipment, however, it is the
State’s position that claimant failed to follow certain safety procedures,
and failed to utilize other safeguards on the machine, which would have
prevented this accident from occurring. The State contends that such conduct by
the claimant was a substantial contributing factor in this accident, thereby
substantially reducing, if not eliminating, the State’s liability.
Although it is well-established that the State has a duty to provide its
inmates with reasonably safe equipment, it is equally well-settled that the
State is not an insurer of inmate safety (Maldonado v State of New York
255 AD2d 630; Colon v State of New York
, 209 AD2d 842), and inmates must
exercise ordinary care while engaged in work programs (Muhammad v State of
; Manganaro v State of New York
, 24 AD3d 1003).
Including claimant, there were three inmates working on the press at the
time of claimant’s accident, and all three inmates provided testimony at
trial. Their collective testimony is critical in determining whether claimant,
by his own actions, must share or assume total responsibility for this accident
by failing to follow proper safety procedures.
Claimant testified that he
had been working in the blanking shop for approximately one year prior to this
accident, and that he had consistently received satisfactory evaluation reports
for his work. On the day of the accident, claimant was working on the press
with two other inmates, Samuel Tinnell and John Tyran. Claimant testified that
this press was one of three that were present and operating in the blanking
At some point, scrap metal jammed the machine, requiring that this
scrap metal be removed before production could continue. Claimant testified
that he then went searching for a rod or stick to use for cleaning out the scrap
metal. Claimant testified that there usually was such a rod or stick available
with the machine, but on that day, for whatever reason, one was not there.
However, he went to the machine on “line 2", which also did not have
any rod or stick, and when he went to “line 3", the inmates on that
machine were using their rod at the time. As he was returning to his press,
claimant saw inmate Tyran, and told Mr. Tyran that he was going to use the
bathroom. He then went back to the machine and after pushing the “top
stop” button, began to pull out the scrap metal from the back of the press
by using his hands. As he was cleaning out the scrap metal, the press was
activated and the blade came down and caught his hand and arm in the press,
causing his severe injuries.
Testimony at trial established that
activating the yellow “top stop” button would have resulted in the
cutting blade of the press finishing its cycle and stopping at the top of the
next cycle. This procedure provided maximum access to the machine for purposes
of clearing out scrap metal. Use of the “top stop” button, however,
did not shut off power to the machine, and the press could be restarted simply
by pushing another button. Expert testimony also established that other buttons
accessible to workers were present on the machine. The purpose of these buttons
was not only to stop the cutting process, but also shut off all power to the
machine. When power was shut off to the machine, however, it took a
significantly longer period of time to put the press back into operation once
power was restored.
Claimant further testified that he did not receive any
training on the operation of this press from any personnel at the facility, and
that the only limited training he received was provided to him by other inmates.
He acknowledged that he attended a “pre-industry training session”
prior to this accident, but that this session consisted merely of a video and
did not include any instructions as to the operation of the press on which he
was injured. He further testified that he had never received any instructions
from his supervisors not to clean scrap from the machine or not to use his hands
if he did so.
Samuel Tinnell, one of the inmates who was working with
claimant on the day of the accident, also testified. Mr. Tinnell was familiar
with the operation of the press, and described the press and its operation. He
testified that two people were needed to operate the machine properly, a
“press operator” and a “press applicator”. While the
press is operating, these two workers are situated on the same side of the
machine, and therefore remain within eye contact of each other.
Tinnell confirmed claimant’s testimony that on the day of the accident, a
jam in the press occurred, and claimant went around to the back of the machine
to clean out the jam. Mr. Tinnell added that tools were often provided to clean
out these jams, but that on many occasions inmates would clear the jams by using
After the jam occurred, Mr. Tinnell thought that claimant
left the area of the press to go to the bathroom, and, after waiting a period of
time, he then directed John Tyran, a third inmate who was working on the press
that day, to restart the press. As soon as Mr. Tyran activated the press, this
accident occurred, and he heard claimant scream from the rear of the machine.
Mr. Tinnell testified, as did claimant, that the only training he received
for this machine was from another inmate, and that he also did not receive any
training whatsoever from shop supervisors or facility personnel. He also
testified that pieces of metal often became caught in the machine, creating
numerous jams each day. Although these jams were a common occurrence, he had
never been advised, and had never observed supervisors telling other inmates
that inmates were not allowed to clean out the jams by using their hands. He
testified that no instructions had ever been provided, either written or verbal,
about the procedures to be followed to disengage the machine before removing
metal chips from the press. He also testified that it was common practice for
inmates to clean the scrap by using their hands, and that inmates would do so
after activating the “top stop” button.
Inmate John Tyran
testified that he was first assigned to this machine the day before the
accident, and that he had not received any instructions (whether written or
verbal) or any training on this machine prior to the accident. He confirmed Mr.
Tinnell’s testimony that he restarted the press operation, upon the
direction of Mr. Tinnell, without knowing that claimant was attempting to clean
the jam in the rear of the machine at the time.
Daniel L. Kimler, an
industrial training supervisor at Auburn who was working on the day of the
accident, testified on behalf of the State. Contrary to the testimony of
claimant and his witnesses, Mr. Kimler testified that inmates do in fact receive
“hands-on training” in connection with the operation of the presses,
and that he actually trained claimant in the proper operation of the machine at
He further testified that he specifically did not provide
any instructions to claimant about clean-out procedures of the press because
scrap cleaning was not to be performed by inmates. He testified that inmates
were specifically instructed not to clean out scrap pieces of metal, but instead
were directed to obtain assistance from a supervisor, who then had the
responsibility to disengage power from the press and then properly clean out
the scrap metal. He also testified that he was not aware of any inmate who
cleaned out the scrap by themselves.
A transcript of the deposition
testimony of Floyd Wilson, another training supervisor at Auburn who was also
working in the blanking shop on the day of the accident, was received into
evidence (see Exhibit 11). In his deposition, Mr. Wilson testified, contrary to
the testimony of Mr. Kimler, that inmates would routinely clear scrap from
the rear of the presses, without any supervision or approval from their
supervisors. Mr. Wilson stated that it was not unusual for an inmate to access
the press from the rear, as claimant did in this instance, and that inmates
consistently cleared scrap from the rear of the machines, without any such
approval or supervision.
Based on the testimony adduced at trial, the Court
finds and concludes that claimant did not receive proper training in the
operation of this press at any time prior to the accident. The Court finds that
the only training received by claimant came from other inmates who had
previously worked, or were currently working, on the machines. Of particular
significance, the Court finds that claimant received no training whatsoever in
the proper and safe methods for cleaning out scrap metal from the machine, and
also finds that inmates working on the presses were expected to clear out the
scrap metal, and correct any jams, in order to keep the presses operating.
As acknowledged by defendant’s expert, Mr. Sachs, it is the
responsibility of supervisory personnel at the facility to safely train and
supervise its inmates involved in work programs, and similarly it is the
responsibility of management personnel to enforce safety rules and regulations.
The failure to provide adequate and proper training in the operation of
dangerous machinery in this instance must therefore be attributable solely to
the supervisory personnel at the facility.
The Court therefore finds that
this claimant was placed in a very vulnerable position due not only to the
failure of the State to provide him with reasonably safe equipment, but also due
to the failure of management to adequately train him in the proper and safe
operation of the press. As a result of this utter and complete failure to
properly train claimant, as well as to adequately supervise claimant while
operating the press, claimant is not to be blamed for any actions taken by him
in attempting to clear the jam from the machine. From the credible evidence,
the Court finds that claimant was simply following procedures he had been
taught, and that were commonly performed in the blanking shop, as he attempted
to clean out the machine.
Accordingly, based upon the foregoing, it is the
Court’s finding that the proximate cause of this accident resulted from a
combination of the failure of the State to provide a proper guard and safety
device to the machine, which would, by all accounts, have prevented the
accident, the failure of personnel to provide adequate and proper training in
the operation of the machine, and the lack of supervision over claimant while he
was operating, and cleaning out, the press. Therefore, it is the determination
of this Court that the State must be held fully liable for the injuries suffered
by claimant in this accident.
Any motions not heretofore ruled upon are
The Clerk of the Court is hereby directed to enter an
interlocutory judgment on the issue of liability in accordance with this
decision. The Court will set this matter down for trial on the issue of damages
as soon as practicable.
LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT BE ENTERED