John Dekoskie (“Claimant”) filed claim number 106661 on
September 20, 2002 alleging Defendant was negligent in its care and maintenance
of the bunk beds at Five Points Correctional Facility (“Five
Points”). I conducted a trial on this matter on September 12, 2005 at
Auburn Correctional Facility.
Claimant alleges that on January 6, 2001 at
approximately 5:30 a.m., he attempted to lie down on his top bunk in his cell at
Five Points. He testified he climbed up the ladder at the end of the bunk,
stood on the top rung, and placed his knee on the bunk in an effort to pull
himself off the ladder and up onto the mattress. He believes his knee was about
6 to 12 inches from the edge of the mattress. This resulted in his upper body
being up over the mattress while his lower body was still on the ladder. At
this point, the mattress “slipped sideways.” Claimant tried to
prevent himself from falling off the bunk with the mattress but there were no
railings or other objects to hold on to. Claimant believes his stomach hit the
bed frame when he lost his balance and began to fall, causing him to fall
backwards, strike his head on the lip of the shower stall and lose
consciousness. He sustained a 2.5 inch laceration on the back of his head and
was treated at Cayuga Medical Center (Exh. 1).
Claimant believes Defendant is at fault because the mattress is too large
for the bed frame and/or the bunk lacks guard railings or any other way to keep
the mattress on the frame.
On cross-examination, Claimant stated that, prior
to this incident, he had been getting on and off the top bunk for five months
without a problem.
Defendant had Deputy Superintendent Dawson Brown testify.
Deputy Superintendent Brown is responsible for the condition of the physical
plant at Five Points. He stated that Five Points, which was built in 2000, is
the newest correctional facility in New York State and met all New York State
Building Codes at the time of construction. The cell design was common and has
been in use since the mid-1990s. He also testified that Exhibit A, a one-page
document comprised of four photographs of a cell at Five Points, each taken from
a different angel, fairly and accurately depicts the mattresses and pillows
provided to inmates. He stated that inmates’ cells are inspected daily by
correction staff, and each week for fire and safety regulation compliance. Each
month, the Environmental Services staff also conducts cell inspections. In
addition, Housekeeping and Industrial Hygiene conduct one inspection a year. He
further testified that he was familiar with the bunk construction and opined
that it was of a design used in approximately 10 correctional facilities in New
York State. It has been in use since the early 1990s and to his knowledge, this
is the first case where an inmate has alleged that the bunk’s construction
or design caused him to fall off the bed.
Deputy Superintendent Brown also
addressed the Claimant’s allegations about the size of the mattresses.
The mattresses and pillows are designed specifically for these bunks by
Corcraft. He testified that the facility replaces mattresses once every three
years - approximately one-third of the facility’s mattresses are replaced
each year. He stated that Claimant’s mattress was over one year old and
could have hung over the bunk’s edge up to two inches when properly in
He believes that the only explanation for the mattress hanging over four inches
was that it was not properly in place on the frame. Inmates have to push their
mattresses in place on the frame. He stated that some inmates use their sheets
to tie down the mattresses but he believes they do this to keep the mattresses
completely covered rather than to keep them from moving around on the
It is well established that “[t]he State - just as any other
party . . . is responsible, in the operation and management of its schools,
hospitals and other institutions, only for hazards reasonably to be foreseen,
only for risks reasonably to be perceived” (Flaherty v State of New
, 296 NY 342, 346) and with respect to the safety of persons on its
property, the duty of the State is one of reasonable care under the
circumstances (see Miller v State of New York
, 62 NY2d 506). However,
the State is not an insurer of the safety of its premises and negligence cannot
be inferred solely from the happening of an accident (see Killeen v State of
, 66 NY2d 850, 851; Condon v State of New York
, 193 AD2d
Claimant must demonstrate, by a preponderance of the credible
evidence, that Defendant had actual or constructive notice of the condition and
failed to correct the problem within a reasonable period of time (see Klepper
v Seymour House Corp.
, 246 NY 85; Taylor v Bankers Trust Co.
, 80 AD2d
Claimant provided no proof of actual notice of the condition of the
mattress(es) to Defendant. But, can an argument be made that they might have
possessed constructive notice of the condition? I think not. Deputy
Superintendent Brown stated that this was the first time he had heard of an
inmate claiming that the bunk design caused his injury. Deputy Superintendent
Brown has been at Five Points since it opened in August 2000 and has been
employed by the Department of Correctional Services since 1982. Further, he
testified that the mattresses are regularly replaced at Five Points. I find
that Defendant is aware that the mattresses, after a short period of use, hang
over the bunk frame (Exh. A). But that does not mean that it was reasonably
foreseeable that an inmate would fall off the bunk because of the mattress.
Claimant admitted he had been sleeping on the top bunk for approximately five
months without incident. He also stated that he would get in and out of his
bunk approximately 10 times each day.
Although there is no doubt that
Claimant fell, hit his head, was unconscious for a time and suffered a cut
requiring several staples to close, it cannot be inferred solely by this
accident that Defendant was somehow negligent.
Accordingly, I find that
Claimant has failed to prove a prima facie cause of action for negligence.
Claim 106661 is hereby dismissed in its entirety. Let judgment be entered