New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DEKOSKIE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-031-507, Claim No. 106661


Claimant failed to demonstrate defect in bunk be or notice of such defect to Defendant. Claim dismissed.

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):

Claimant’s attorney:
Defendant’s attorney:
New York State Attorney General
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
April 3, 2006

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 place.
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 frame.
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 York, 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 New York, 66 NY2d 850, 851; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874).
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 483).
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 accordingly.

April 3, 2006
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1].He also alleged that he suffered a “gash” on his stomach, though the medical records make no reference to any such injury.
[2].A new mattress hangs over one to one and one-half inches.