Claimant seeks damages for injuries he sustained on February 27, 2004 during
his incarceration at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (Sing Sing) when he slipped
and fell down the stairs while carrying two bags of his belongings. The trial
of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of
At a Tier III disciplinary hearing held on February 25, 2004, claimant was
found guilty of possession of marijuana. As a result, he was sent to the
facility’s Special Housing Unit (SHU) for six months. Upon entry to SHU,
an inmate’s personal property is removed from his cell and stored.
Pursuant to Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) Directive 4933, within 72
hours of admission to SHU, an inmate is permitted to retrieve some of his
personal items. Following what was referred to as the “72-hour
rule,” on February 27, 2004, Correction Officer Richardson went to
claimant’s cell to escort him to an area where he could review his
personal property (T:65).
cell was on the first floor of SHU’s two story housing block. The inmate
property was stored on the second floor.
Claimant testified that he was handcuffed by Correction Officer Richardson and
led up one flight of stairs to the area where the property was located. Another
correction officer, Chambers, was already with the property when Richardson and
claimant arrived. Claimant testified that his handcuffs were removed and he
placed his belongings into two clear plastic bags as the two officers monitored
and inventoried claimant’s items (T:19-21, 42-43). The items packed
comprised claimant’s legal papers, transcripts, and books, along with his
toiletries, magazines, letters, shorts, underwear and tee shirts. Claimant
testified that his legal materials were all related to his active cases.
According to claimant, he tied a knot on the top of each bag and then he was
handcuffed (T:20-21). Claimant testified that, with his hands cuffed, he
grabbed the two bags and walked backwards dragging the bags to the top of the
staircase (T:22, 54-55). He estimated that the bag containing his legal
documents weighed 60 pounds and the other bag weighed 30 pounds (id.).
Claimant explained that he dragged the bags because they were heavy and
difficult to carry while handcuffed (T:55). Claimant, however, did not request
to carry one bag at a time (T:56). According to claimant, when he reached the
top of the stairs, Richardson told claimant to carry the bags down the stairs.
Considering Richardson’s words a direct order, claimant picked up the two
bags and started the descent. As he proceeded, he lost his balance and fell
down the stairs (T:25-26). Claimant testified that Richardson was not
accompanied by a sergeant (T:53). Claimant, who was six foot, three inches tall
and weighed 230 pounds, never complained that the bags were too heavy nor did he
ask Richardson if they could take another route (T:27). Claimant testified
that he was aware that he was responsible for carrying his bags (T:53). He did
not at any time tell a correction officer that the bags were too heavy for him
to carry (id.).
Sergeant Joseph Tilson has been employed by DOCS for 20 years and has been a
sergeant since 2003. He testified that, except for very limited exceptions not
present in this case, all SHU inmates leaving their cells must be handcuffed at
all times and they are to remain handcuffed during the entire procedure of
reclaiming their property pursuant to the 72-hour rule (T:66-69). Tilson
specifically recalled accompanying Richardson as he escorted claimant to
retrieve his property. Tilson testified that he temporarily left the area while
Officers Chambers and Richardson packed claimant’s belongings. When
Tilson returned, he noticed the large amount of legal material and questioned
claimant whether the items all referred to active cases. Tilson testified that
he observed claimant, “[h]is hands were cuffed, he picked up the bags and
lifted them straight up” (T:73). Claimant carried the bags without
difficulty and did not drag them on the floor (id.). Claimant did not
make any comment regarding the weight of the bags nor did he ask for any
assistance with the bags (T:74). Tilson did not observe claimant have any
difficulty with the bags (T:83-85).
Tilson explained that, absent medical conditions or other physical
limitations, the SHU inmate always carries his own property to his cell (T:74).
In this case, there was no reason why claimant could not carry his own property,
but if there had been a limitation, then another inmate would be directed to
carry claimant’s property or ultimately an officer would transport the
property (id.). Claimant did not appear to be having any problem
carrying the bags. When they reached the staircase, Tilson asked claimant if he
wanted to make two trips because he had two bags (T:86-87). Claimant did not
respond and proceeded down the stairs. Tilson saw claimant fall and later
prepared a memorandum regarding the accident (Ex. 4). The report stated:
“[a]s Davis was approximately half way down the stairs leading to one
gallery, his foot became what appeared to be tangled in his property bag and he
fell forward down the stairs” (id.). Claimant was then taken to
the emergency room for evaluation.
Correction Officer Napoleon Richardson testified that he has been employed by
DOCS for nine years and has been at Sing Sing almost the entire time. On
February 27, 2004, he was assigned as the SHU escort officer and went with
Tilson to claimant’s cell. Claimant was handcuffed and taken upstairs to
the property area where Chambers was stationed. Claimant remained handcuffed at
all times. Claimant’s property was placed on a table and he was allowed
to select the permissible items for use in SHU. The selected items were then
placed into two plastic bags. Claimant picked up the filled bags and carried
them without any difficulty and without any comment about their weight
(T:110-11). Richardson did not observe claimant dragging the bags on the floor
at any time (T:111). Nor did he observe claimant have any difficulty balancing
himself as he carried the bags (T:124).
Richardson did not direct claimant down the stairs or have any conversation
with him. Richardson testified that claimant did not respond to Tilson when
asked about making two trips with the bags and that claimant stated that all of
his legal material related to active cases (T:123-24).
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 if one of reasonable care under the circumstances (see
Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 513; Preston v State of New
York, 59 NY2d 997, 998; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241). The
State, however, 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).
Upon listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they
did so, the Court finds that the credible evidence established that claimant was
aware that it was his responsibility to carry his own bags and he was aware of
this as he packed the bags and necessarily determined their weight. Claimant
never made any remarks regarding the weight of the bags nor did he complain of
any difficulty in handling the bags. Indeed, the Court finds that the credible
evidence established that claimant lifted the bags straight up and carried them
without difficulty and disregarded the option to carry one bag at a time down
the stairs. Where an inmate fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous
course of conduct, the inmate is required to take some responsibility for his
own negligence (see Carter v State of New York, 194 AD2d 967;
Hicks v State of New York, 124 AD2d 949). Accordingly, the Court finds
that claimant failed to meet his burden of proof as he did not establish that
defendant was negligent and that such negligence was a proximate cause of
claimant’s accident. Rather, the Court finds that claimant’s fall
was due to his own negligence in trying to carry both bags at once down the
stairs rather than make two trips and to carry one bag at a time.
Defendant’s motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 109333.