This is the decision following the trial of the claim of Beatrice Jordan
that defendant’s negligence was the cause of her fall in the building that
houses the Bronx County Family Court. On the afternoon of May 22, 2000, Ms.
Jordan took her daughter, Vermel, who was then 14 years old, to Family Court,
because Ms. Jordan believed that she needed court-ordered assistance to ensure
Vermel’s regular school attendance, among other things.
By the end of
the day, the paperwork had been completed on claimant’s Petition to have
her daughter determined to be a Person in Need of Supervision (PINS). It was
what occurred earlier in the afternoon that gave rise to this lawsuit. Ms.
Jordan and Vermel had arrived at the Courthouse at approximately 2 to 2:30 p.m.,
inquiring about a PINS petition and were directed to the second floor, where
Jordan testified that, “they gave me a paper and they sent me to the sixth
Claimant recalls waiting about 30 to 45 minutes with her
daughter sitting next to her, and then she testified that Vermel “got up
and said she wasn’t waiting anymore and she just walked off.” The
fourteen-year-old started toward the bank of elevators and her mother followed
her. Jordan testified that she asked her where she was going, and Vermel
replied, “I’m leaving.” Claimant described what happened next:
So the elevator door opened and she got in . . . I held the door open so
she wouldn’t be able to go down, so the elevator door wouldn’t close
and she wouldn’t go downstairs, and I called for help . . . I yelled out,
“My daughter is trying to leave, I need some help.”
Claimant said that an officer “finally” came over. Jordan
said she was holding the elevator door, told the officer that she needed help,
and he responded, “Do what you have to do.” In her deposition of
July 28, 2004, claimant indicated that this was not what she had expected; she
thought the officer would tell her daughter to come out of the elevator ”
(def exh C, p. 50). This officer was never identified by claimant.
Continuing with her trial narrative, Jordan said the officer, “held
the door open with his body and I walked into the elevator to talk to my
daughter to convince her to stay . . . [and] get a signed document.” They
finished their conversation and, “as I turned to, to motion to walk out of
the elevator, the officer let the door go and went his way and as he let the
door go it hit me on my right side and I fell backwards and I heard my leg
Claimant, relying on the foregoing testimony, contends that
while the officer may not have had a duty to hold the elevator door in the first
place, once undertaking to do so, he was obligated to perform the duty in a
non-negligent manner. See page two of claimant’s post-trial Letter Brief,
dated April 26, 2007, citing Gordon v Muchnick
, 180 AD2d 715, 579 NYS2d
745 (2d Dept 1992).
In any event, whether or not there was an assumption
of duty, claimant has not persuaded this trier of fact that the incident
happened as she described it, i.e., that the proximate cause of her fall and
resulting injury was negligence on the part of the unnamed officer. There is a
substantial question that Jordan fell as she said she did -- substantial enough
to prevent claimant from satisfying her burden of proof.
Court Officer John
Bitsko, who filled out the Aided Report as to Ms. Jordan’s fall, testified
at trial (def exh B). Officer Bitsko had worked at the Bronx Family Court since
1990, was on duty the day of Jordan’s fall, and has been assigned there
since. On May 22, 2000, Bitsko was summoned by radio call that there was a
person in need of assistance on the sixth floor; he may have been on that floor,
or on the floor above, when he received the call. He proceeded to the area
outside the elevator banks on the sixth floor, where he found Ms. Jordan lying
on the floor about five to ten feet from the elevator doors.
On the stand,
the officer stated that he asked claimant if she was okay and what had happened;
he recalled the following exchange:
Q. And what did she tell you when you
asked her what happened?
A. That she had an altercation with her daughter,
the daughter pushed her and she fell.
Q. Did she mention at that point
in time that any other Court Officer had been involved in the altercation?
Q. Did she mention at that time that any other Court Officer had
been holding the elevator doors open for her and her daughter?
In the Aided Report, filled out at the end of that day, Bitsko wrote,
“the above named was knocked to the floor by her daughter and was
complaining of severe pain in her left ankle.” Ms. Jordan’s
admission was not in quotation marks and when asked about the reference on
, the officer indicated that he did not recall if such was an
exact quote, but repeated his testimony that Ms. Jordan had told him that she
and her daughter had had an altercation, and that her daughter had pushed her
and she had fallen to the floor.
Bitsko was a straightforward, credible
witness with a definite recollection of the events of that day. Moreover, the
PINS Petition signed by Ms. Jordan also contained the admission that the
Respondent (Vermel) “was physically abusive towards [claimant] in the
Court House, pushing her . . .” (def exh A, p. 2).
There were other
instances in Jordan’s testimony, aside from her admissions, that undercut
her trial testimony. At her deposition, claimant was vague as to her position
relative to the elevator and to the unidentified court officer, stating,
“I don’t quite remember. I was just there.” (Def exh C, p.
42). Finally, at the deposition, Ms. Jordan maintained that she could not
recall whether there had been any past physical encounters with Vermel:
Had your daughter ever on any prior occasion hit you, pushed you or hurt
Q. Any occasion prior to that day?
A. No. Not that
I - - verbal.
Q. But anything physical?
A. No, not that I
, pp. 63-64).
The PINS Petition, in addition
to the above-mentioned reference to Vermel pushing her mother at the courthouse,
contained the general statement that Vermel “is verbally and physically
abusive” to her mother (def exh A, p. 2).
The credible evidence fails
to satisfy claimant’s burden on the essential factual issue of what caused
her to fall. It is unnecessary thus to reach the issue of whether the facts as
claimant described them would give rise to an assumed duty at the elevator by
the unidentified court officer.
In view of the foregoing, the claim of Beatrice Jordan (no. 103879) is
dismissed, and the Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment