New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BELTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-016-040, Claim No. 103677


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):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant’s attorney:
Galvano & Xanthakis, Christopher Collins, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney Generalby: Leslie A. Stroth, AAG
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
May 24, 2006
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This is the decision following the trial of the claim of Jeffery Belton that on November 29, 2000, he slipped and fell on a wet floor at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, which is located on Staten Island.
At the time of his accident, Mr. Belton had been incarcerated at Arthur Kill since 1998, residing in Housing Unit E-2 for about a year and a half. The unit is basically divided into two functional areas, the dormitory and the recreation room. The dormitory housed some 60 inmates in beds separated by cubicles. A wall with a steel door separated the dorm from the recreation room, also known as the “rec room” or the “day room.” There were two televison sets in the rec room, and places for inmates to play cards and ping pong. A correction officer was assigned to work from a desk inside the dormitory placed against the wall.
At about 9 p.m. in the evening, claimant, who was in his cube listening to music with headphones, had to use the bathroom. To get there from the dorm, an individual would walk out into the rec room, and according to defendant’s exhibit A, which had been submitted by Belton as part of his claim, turn to the right. Claimant testified that:
. . . I proceeded to go to the bathroom. I pushed the door open, and before I knew it, I was in the air. And I came down on my back and my neck . . . I can remember just taking about two or three steps . . . [a]fter I pushed that door open.
Claimant described the floor as a hard linoleum. As for his footwear, while claimant’s deposition testimony (December 9, 2004) on the subject differed slightly from his testimony at trial, in either version he was fully dressed.
The defendant State of New York, like any property owner, has a duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition (Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 386 NYS2d 564 (1976)), but it is not an insurer - - that an accident occurs does not necessarily implicate negligence (Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719, 396 NYS2d 113 (4th Dept 1977)).
In order to find the State liable for a fall on a wet floor, the proof must show either that defendant created the condition; or if it did not, that defendant had notice of the condition and sufficient time to clean it up. As for whether constructive notice obtains, the condition must be visible and apparent and have existed for a sufficient period of time before the accident to have been discovered and remedied. Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 501 NYS2d 646 (1986); Giuffrida v Metro North Commuter Railroad Company, 279 AD2d 403, 720 NYS2d 41 (1st Dept 2001).
When asked if he knew why he fell down, claimant responded, “I fell because they were stripping the floor with a slippery solution.” However, Belton’s statement in the Report of Inmate Injury form had been less specific, “I was walking to the bathroom & fell on [the] wet floor” (cl exh 1).
Thus claimant’s initial reaction did not include the theory that floor stripping had left a slippery residue. Belton himself was an inmate porter whose duties included mopping, cleaning and stripping the floors. As for what the latter entailed, claimant explained that the process took two inmates: “we use a stripping solution that strips the wax off . . . It is a soapy solution that brings up the old wax so that you can put on fresh wax.”
Except for Belton’s testimony, there is no evidentiary support that the floor was stripped on November 29, 2000, and that if so, it made the floor slippery by the time 9 o’clock rolled around. Belton indicated that the stripping was always done during the daytime; the accident report has his time of injury at 9:10 p.m. (cl exh 1). According to claimant, at the time of the incident, most of the 60 inmates who lived in Unit E-2 were in the rec room. They were allowed to have drinks; the only bathroom facility was the one Belton was heading to and next to it were the showers. There was also an ice machine in the vicinity.
Claimant has not offered any credible proof that if the floor was wet, it was the result of the stripping process that he conceded was always undertaken many hours earlier, rather than from the shower, or from the drinks that the residents of E-2 had in the recreation room. We do not know what it was or who created the alleged condition; nor was credible evidence presented as to any notice thereof. Claimant, who testified that when he fell, “everybody rushed over to me and asked me was I all right,” was the only witness at trial. Belton could not remember the name of the correction officer who he said was at his post then, nor for that matter, the name of the inmate who sketched the diagram of the area that became defendant’s A in evidence.
In view of the foregoing, Jeffery Belton has failed to meet the burden of proving that defendant is liable in negligence for his fall of November 29, 2000, and claim no. 103677 is dismissed.

May 24, 2006
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims