At trial of this action, held at Elmira Correctional Facility, Claimant
that on February 8, 2000, at Elmira Correctional Facility, he was injured when
he slipped on snow and ice that had not been removed from the walkway he used
while at work in the facility kitchen. He reported for work at approximately
6:00 a.m. that morning and was returning to the building after taking a break at
9:00 a.m. As he recalled it, the last time there had been any ice and rain was
approximately two weeks earlier.
Claimant stated that he was about ten feet from the building when he fell. He
Exhibits 1A, 1D, photographs of a doorway and the area in front of it and
confirmed that they showed the location of his accident. When asked if the
photographs fairly and accurately depicted the location at the time of the
accident, he stated that there was more snow when he fell, covering even the
area that appears to be clear concrete in the pictures. Exhibit 1A shows a
building doorway with an irregular area directly in front of the door that is
clear of snow. The cleared area appears to be approximately twice as wide as
the doorway and to extend out from the building at least five or six feet.
Around that cleared area, the ground is covered with packed snow. Exhibit 1D
focuses on the portion of the clear area that is most distant from the doorway,
where a drain is located. Both photographs have arrows drawn on them that
point to the snow on the far side of the drain along with a notation "area
Claimant estimated that there were approximately six inches of snow at the time
of his fall. He stated that when he was picked up after the accident, he saw
that he had fallen on some clear ice. The ice was extremely hard and
approximately four inches thick, and there was a slight amount of snow on top of
the ice. On cross-examination, Claimant stated that he had worked at the
kitchen for several days prior to the accident and had gone in and out of the
doorway on several occasions each day when he took his breaks.
Claimant, was immediately taken to the infirmary and then transferred to an
outside hospital. He was told that he would have to wear a cast, because the
ankle was broken in "five or six places," or have surgery. He elected to wear a
cast, which went from his toe to just below his knee. He wore this cast for 45
days. He was then given a plastic boot cast which, he testified, he wore until
February 2001, and was assigned to have physical therapy.
Peter Buzetti, the plant supervisor at Elmira Correctional Facility, testified
for Defendant. He stated that there was a policy in place to respond to any
report of unsafe ice and snow that was reported to them. As needed, inmates
would be directed to use a "bobcat" to clear the ice and/or snow.
Also testifying for Defendant was Correction Officer Daniel Leonard. At the
time in question, he was assigned to food service area at Elmira Correctional
Facility. He recalled Claimant. He stated that when workers were allowed to
take a break, most of them remained inside but those who wanted to smoke were
permitted to go outside. On the day Claimant was injured, Officer Leonard was
in charge of the inmates who had remained inside, but he recalled Claimant
coming in, limping, with the assistance of another inmate. He agreed with
Claimant that it was not snowing on the day of the accident, but he could not
recall how long it had been since the last snow.
Defendant's final witness was Correction Officer Robert Emmick, who served as
the fire and safety officer at Elmira Correctional Facility. He stated that it
was the responsibility of the Watch Commander to make sure that ice and snow
were removed from walkways, and he would be called in when there was a problem.
He was informed of Claimant's accident and went to the location that same day.
At approximately 11:45 a.m., he took the photographs placed in evidence as
Exhibits 1A and 1D.
He confirmed that the doorway area shown in the photographs was the way it
appeared on the day in question when he was called to investigate Claimant's
Where the State acts in a proprietary capacity as a landowner, it has a duty
to maintain its land in a reasonably safe condition (
Preston v State of New York
, 59 NY2d 997; Basso v Miller
, 40 NY2d
233), and that duty extends to those in the State's institutions. This duty
requires that the State take every reasonable precaution to protect individuals
on its property, but the State is not an insurer against any injury which might
occur (Killeen v State of New York
, 66 NY2d 850). Consequently, the fact
that an accident occurs does not establish negligence; for liability to attach,
Claimant must prove that the State breached its duty of care to him (Mochen v
State of New York
, 57 AD2d 719). With respect to individuals who are
injured when falling on ice and snow, the standard of care must be applied with
appreciation of the problems caused by winter weather, and Claimant must prove
by competent evidence that the presence of snow or ice created a dangerous
condition that the State knew of or should have known existed and that there was
reasonable opportunity to correct the condition (Condon v State of New
, 193 AD2d 874; Marcellus v Littauer Hosp. Assn
., 145 AD2d 680; 1
NY PJI 3d 2:111A).
Although there is no doubt that Claimant fell and suffered serious injury at
the time and location alleged, the photographic evidence makes it clear that he
did not have to go onto or even particularly near the packed snow in order to
take his break and smoke a cigarette. Although the dimensions of the cleared
area in front of the doorway were not given, there would be sufficient room for
several people to stand safely on dry pavement. Consequently, Claimant failed
to prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that a dangerous condition
existed at the location of his fall or that any negligence on the part of the
State was a proximate cause of his fall. The Chief Clerk is directed to enter
judgment in favor of Defendant, dismissing the claim.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.