New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SAVIO v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-038-101, Claim No. 110826


Defendant liable for claimant’s injuries when defendant failed to warn of recently mopped floor.

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:
MOORE & LANE, LLPBy: Steven Lane, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
ANDREW M. CUOMO, Attorney General of the State of New York
By: John Belford, IV, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 25, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The instant claim was filed on May 2, 2005, and it alleges that claimant was injured when she slipped and fell on a wet floor at the Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, New York. Claimant asserts that her fall was caused by the defendant’s negligence and specifically that defendant failed to post a warning that the floor was wet.
The liability phase of the trial of this claim was held on October 4, 2006 in Hauppauge, New York. Claimant presented her own testimony and that of Michele Natal; defendant offered no witnesses. Neither party offered photographic, documentary or other exhibits into evidence. After listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, and upon consideration of that evidence, the Court makes the following findings of fact.

On November 22, 2004, claimant was a special education teacher employed by Eastern Suffolk B.O.C.E.S. and was working at Stony Brook University Hospital in the Child Psychiatric Unit known as 12 North, where she had worked for approximately 19 years. Sometime between 11:00 am and 11:30 am, claimant exited her classroom to get an identification badge. Claimant met up with Barbara Hickman in the middle of the hallway outside of the nurses’ station. Claimant and Hickman walked approximately ten feet when claimant’s feet gave out from underneath her and she fell backwards, landing on her back and buttocks with her left leg beneath her. Immediately preceding the fall, claimant was walking at a “normal pace” (T:23)[1]
, looking straight ahead, not carrying anything, and with an unobstructed view. Prior to her fall, claimant did not notice anything unusual about the floor, she did not notice that the floor was wet, she did not see any mops or buckets in the hallway, she did not have occasion to look into the nurses’ station, nor did she see any yellow “wet floor” signs as she had seen in the past when floors were mopped on 12 North. After falling, claimant became aware that the floor was wet because her clothes and hands were wet and she could see that it was wet from her position at eye level with the floor.

Michele Natal, an employee of defendant, was the housekeeper assigned to 12 North who mopped the linoleum floor of 12 North on the date that claimant fell. Natal had been trained to mop hallway floors so that one half of the width of the hallway would be mopped and yellow “wet floor” warning signs would be appropriately placed. Once the floor had dried, the other half of the hallway would be mopped in the same fashion. At some point prior to claimant’s fall, Natal was given conflicting instructions regarding placement of “wet floor” signs. Christa Sinha, a nurse assigned to 12 North, instructed Natal to not place the yellow “wet floor” signs in the hallway when she mopped, for fear that the signs could be used by the child psychiatric patients as weapons. Natal was then told by her housekeeping supervisor to continue to place the “wet floor” signs in the hallway. She was subsequently instructed by another staff person on 12 North to place the signs in the nurses’ station, which is in a separate room that is visible from the hallway only if the door is open and one happens to be looking into that room. Prior to the date of her fall, claimant had observed housekeepers, including Natal, place the yellow “wet floor” signs down or provide some other warning whenever they mopped the floor, and she was never informed that the policy of placing the yellow “wet floor” signs out in a wet hallway had been changed. At the time of claimant’s fall, the linoleum floor in 12 North was black, white and grey linoleum that looked “[l]ike gravel” (T:45), and one could not tell with the naked eye, in the absence of some indication or signage, when the floor was wet.

On the date of claimant’s fall, Natal mopped the area where claimant fell and did not place any yellow “wet floor” signs down or provide any other means to indicate that the floor had been mopped and was wet. Instead, Natal walked into the nurses’ station to inform the personnel in that room that the hallway floor was wet. Natal intended to go to the classrooms and other offices on the floor to verbally warn personnel in those rooms of the wet floor, but while she was in the nurses’ station, she heard a “thump” (T:45). Natal walked out of the nurses’ station to find claimant on the floor where Natal had finished mopping two or three minutes earlier.
It is well established that a landowner has a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition (see Peralta v Henriquez, 100 NY2d 139, 144 [2003]; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233 [1976]). Further, landowners “have a duty to warn of a latent, dangerous condition of which the landowner is or should be aware” (Soich v Farone, 307 AD2d 658, 659 [3d Dept 2003]; see Tagle v Jakob, 97 NY2d 165, 169 [2001]; Phelan v State of New York, 11 Misc 3d 151, 165 [Ct Cl [2005]). When the landowner creates the hazardous or dangerous condition that is a proximate cause of an injury, the injured party is relieved of any obligation to prove notice thereof (see Peralta v Henriquez, supra, at 145; see also Lewis v Metropolitan Transp. Auth., 99 AD2d 246, 249 [1st Dept 1984], affd 64 NY2d 670 [1984]; Feliciano v State of New York, 13 Misc 3d 1208[A], at 4 [Ct Cl 2006]).
As the parties agree in their post-trial memoranda, the basic facts of this case are not in material dispute. Claimant alleges that defendant created a dangerous condition, that the hazard was latent, and that defendant failed to warn claimant of the dangerous condition. Defendant argues that it had neither actual nor constructive notice of the hazard, as there had been no prior complaints about a lack of warning signs, and further argues that there was no proof that the hazard had existed for a sufficient period of time to allow an inference of constructive notice.[2]

As recited, supra, the applicable law is quite clear and defendant’s arguments are inapposite. Where, as here, defendant created a dangerous condition – the wet floor – it had actual notice of that condition (see Lewis v Metropolitan Transp. Auth., supra). Evidence regarding the brief period of time during which the condition existed, or any lack of proof of prior complaints are factual issues related to constructive notice, and are irrelevant in this case where defendant had actual notice of the wet floor because it created the dangerous condition (compare Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837-838 [1986] [insufficient proof of the period of time a piece of paper rested upon the steps to the premises]; Grant v Radamar Meat, 294 AD2d 398, 399 [2d Dept 2002] [no facts from which a jury could infer that spill on a supermarket floor had been present for sufficient period of time to allow defendant to discover and remedy it]; Smith v State of New York, 260 AD2d 819, 820 [3d Dept 1999] [defendant had not received any prior complaints of black ice on walkway]). The undisputed facts establish defendant’s liability, namely that defendant mopped the floor on 12 North, and that the wet condition of the floor was not noticeable, giving rise to a duty to warn. Defendant did not post a sign or otherwise warn claimant that the floor was wet and claimant fell while walking on the wet floor.

To the extent defendant contends that claimant was comparatively negligent, no proof of such negligence was adduced at trial. Claimant was walking at a normal pace, wearing rubber soled shoes, she was not distracted, and she did nothing to obstruct her view of the hallway or the floor. Further, no evidence was adduced that claimant had reason to believe that the floor was or might be wet. Accordingly, the Court finds no basis to attribute negligence to claimant.
Accordingly, the Court finds that defendant is 100% liable for claimant’s injuries. The Chief Clerk is directed to enter an interlocutory judgment to this effect. Any motions not previously ruled upon are hereby DENIED. The claim will be scheduled for trial on the issue of damages as soon as possible.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

January 25, 2007
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. All references to the one-volume transcript are designated by “T”.
[2]. Defendant does not dispute its status as the owner of the property in question, nor does it assert that it would not be liable for the acts or omissions of Michele Natal. Further, defendant’s contentions that no liability may be predicated upon a violation of codes, regulations or standards are misplaced, as claimant’s proof and arguments fall within the confines of the common law.