New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

PRICE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-040-015, Claim No. 108186


Prisoner – Slip and fall on wet floor in bathroom, while leaning on sink. Failure of proof. No liability. 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:
Keyan R. Price, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBy: Michael Krenrich, Esq., AAG
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 19, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


In this Claim, pro se Claimant, Keyan R. Price, has failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the State of New York was negligent in connection with injuries he sustained on August 1, 2000 in a slip and fall accident. The accident occurred in the inmates’ bathroom of the G-1 dormitory at Bare Hill Correctional Facility in Malone (Bare Hill). The trial was held by video conference on January 17, 2007, with the parties at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora and the judge at the Court of Claims in Albany.

The recollections of the two witnesses, the Claimant and Correction Officer Pedro Gonzalez, differ in many particulars.

Claimant testified that he was leaning on a sink with both of his hands resting on the corners of the basin. The sink was one of the last in a row of sinks located in the bathroom, near the showers. Mr. Price stated that he stepped back to spit into the sink after brushing his teeth and lost his footing. “The floor was wet. I slipped.”[1] Trying to regain his balance, he grabbed the sink more tightly. The sink bent off its wall anchoring and the right corner of the basin shattered, cutting his right hand and forearm.

Officer Gonzalez denied that the floor was wet. He testified that he observed Mr. Price in the bathroom just prior to the accident and did not see any water on the floor at that time, nor did he see any other dangerous conditions. He also testified that he inspected the bathrooms to check for contraband during his hourly rounds and at no time during his tour on the day of the accident did anyone say anything about leaks on the bathroom floor. That same day, Officer Gonzalez wrote both an inmate misbehavior report and a memorandum to a Sergeant LaGray concerning the accident. Neither indicates a wet floor or any dangerous conditions (see Ex.1 and Ex. 2). On cross-examination, Claimant conceded that his own statement included in the facility injury report does not mention a wet floor (see Ex.6). On redirect, however, Mr. Price explained that his statement was intended to supply only the immediate cause of the accident.

Claimant testified that he resided in the G-1 dormitory from June 2000 until his accident on August 1, 2000. He stated that he was a porter there during the two months preceding his accident. Mr. Price said that his duties included cleaning the dormitory and bathroom early each morning. He asserted that the bathroom was washed down with water and that he had informed Officer Gonzalez that the floor consistently “would remain wet all day.” In addition, Claimant testified that people would walk from the shower area into the bathroom throughout the course of the day, tracking more water onto the floor. Claimant noted that there were no runners, or mats, inside the bathroom area to prevent people from falling, although mats were placed outside the bathroom area.

Claimant provided a hand-drawn diagram to illustrate the dormitory’s configuration, including the placement of mats (see Ex. 7). On cross-examination, Correction Officer Gonzalez agreed that the diagram provided a “pretty close” depiction of the dormitory. Specifically, Officer Gonzalez agreed that the diagram depicts one long floor mat leading from the entrance of the dormitory to the housing unit, and three smaller mats placed in front of the entrances from the day room to the shower area, the bathroom area (where the sinks are located), and the slop sink area, respectively. Officer Gonzalez testified that the mats were placed so that inmates could wipe their feet after coming out of the shower and thereby not track water onto the day room floor. Officer Gonzalez further testified on cross-examination, however, that the door at the entrance from the shower area to the day room “is usually locked.” Thus, he agreed that inmates typically exited the shower area by means of a back entrance that led from the showers into the bathroom area. When asked on cross-examination why no mat was placed between the back entrance of the shower and the bathroom in order to prevent inmates from tracking water into the bathroom after showering, Officer Gonzalez’ explanation was that the mats were always placed in front of the doors to the day room: “that was the procedure.”

Mr. Price testified that at one point he asked if he could put a runner in the bathroom, but Officer Gonzalez said no. Mr. Price also asserted that the blowers were not working in the bathroom area while he lived in the G-1 dormitory. It was Claimant’s further testimony that the one fan in the dormitory was typically used in the summertime to cool the housing unit where the beds were located. Thus, Mr. Price said it could not be used, as was sometimes done at other times, to help dry the bathroom floor. On cross-examination, Claimant testified that he also told Officer Gonzalez about “some of the sinks that were a little shaky.”

By contrast, Correction Officer Gonzalez testified on direct examination that, at the time of the accident, “everything in the bathroom, in the kitchen, slop sink area was working in perfect condition.” On cross-examination, he stated that the blowers “were always working.” He testified further that he had never had a problem or complaint with respect to the sinks in the G-1 dormitory. Specifically, he was unaware of any problem with any sinks fracturing or breaking in the past. A maintenance work request indicates, however, that on April 11, 2000 a sink in the G-1 dormitory was reported to be falling off the wall (see Ex. 8). Exhibit 8 also includes another maintenance work request relating to two sinks that were broken and clogged in March, 2000 and a toilet that was leaking water. It is not clear, however, from the location code on the form whether the problems described in the second work order occurred in the G-1 dormitory and so the Court has not ascribed any weight to them.

In his testimony, Officer Gonzalez implied that Claimant may have intentionally or recklessly broken the sink. He stated that Claimant “became very upset” when he was told, sometime in the hour or so prior to the accident, that he was going to be moved to another dormitory. Officer Gonzalez testified that he followed Claimant into the bathroom and found Mr. Price leaning on the sink with his arms spread apart, his palms down and the fingers pointed back towards his body, making angry faces in the mirror. After the accident, Officer Gonzalez issued Claimant a misbehavior report in which he cited him for having destroyed State property (see Ex.1). On cross-examination though, Officer Gonzalez agreed that he did not tell Claimant to stop leaning against the sink. Moreover, Officer Gonzalez conceded that his reports of the accident state that Claimant told him he was leaning against the sink, not that Officer Gonzalez actually saw Mr. Price leaning against the sink (see Ex.1 and Ex.2). In any event, Officer Gonzalez did not witness the accident. After he left the bathroom area to continue on his rounds, he heard a loud noise. When he returned to the bathroom, he found Claimant bleeding from the wrist and the corner of the sink broken.

Claimant testified that, after he returned from the hospital, Correction Officer Gonzalez said that he had written a “ticket” (e.g., the inmate misbehavior report) against Mr. Price for damaging the sink. Mr. Price contends that it was only at that time that he was informed that he would be moved to another dormitory. On redirect, Claimant noted that the hearing officer found Mr. Price not guilty of the charges in the inmate misbehavior report. The report states that “there is no indication that inmate Price intentionally caused the damage to the sink” (see Ex.1).

After his accident, Claimant was treated at Bare Hill and at Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone for a laceration to his right wrist and a superficial wound to his right thumb. Mr. Price received ten sutures to close the laceration on his right forearm (see Ex. 9). When asked by the Court at trial, Mr. Price stated that he felt “OK.” Claimant further testified that “after the scar tissue dissolved, it [the injury] got better; the pain disappeared and my range of motion improved to normal.”

To establish a prima facie case of negligence, Claimant must demonstrate by a preponderance of the credible evidence that: (1) Defendant owed Claimant a duty of care; (2) a breach of that duty; and (3) an injury suffered by Claimant which was proximately caused by such breach. In addition, Claimant must show that Defendant’s negligence caused his injuries (see Kampff v Ulster Sanitation, 280 AD2d 797; Patrick v State of New York, 11 Misc 3d 296, 320; Rice v State of New York, Claim No. 107632, dated June 19, 2006, Hard, J. [UID No. 2006-032-505]).

The State has a duty to maintain its facilities in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk (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; Bowers v State of New York, 241 AD2d 760). The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of its inmates and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the occurrence of an accident (see Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850; Muhammad v State of New York, 15 AD3d 807; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874). Moreover, a claimant has the duty to use reasonable care to observe his or her surroundings and to see what is there to be seen (Weigand v United Traction Co., 221 NY 39, 42; Lolik v Big V Supermarkets, 210 AD2d 703, 704, revd on other grounds 86 NY2d 744; Sharrow v New York State Olympic Regional Dev. Auth., 193 Misc 2d 20, 43).

In order to establish a breach of that duty in a slip and fall case, Claimant must prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that: (1) a dangerous condition existed; (2) the Defendant either created the dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice thereof and failed to alleviate the condition within a reasonable time; and (3) such condition was a proximate cause of the accident (see Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837; Dapp v Larson, 240 AD2d 918; Ligon v Waldbaum, Inc., 234 AD2d 347; Bernard v Waldbaum, Inc., 232 AD2d 596).

The Court has considered all the evidence, including a review of the exhibits and listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so. Mr. Price provided generally credible and articulate testimony. Nevertheless, the Court finds that Claimant has failed to meet his burden and did not establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that Defendant was negligent by failing to maintain its facilities in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances.

Claimant did not establish that a dangerous condition existed on the date of the accident. Whether a condition is dangerous and requires the landowner to take remedial measures depends upon the context or environment within which the condition is found (Streeter v State of New York, Claim No. 102595, dated January 31, 2005, Sise, P.J. [UID No. 2005-028-001]). Landowners will not be held liable for injuries arising from a condition on the property that is inherent or incidental to the nature of the property and which could be reasonably anticipated by those using it (Stanton v Town of Oyster Bay, 2 AD3d 835, 836, lv denied 3 NY3d 604). Thus, water on the floor of a health club locker room walkway that was adjacent to a shower room was “necessarily incidental” to the use of the showers and did not, by itself, constitute a dangerous condition (O’Neill v Holiday Health & Fitness Ctrs. of N.Y., 5 AD3d 1009, 1009). The Court also notes that a prison guard was denied accidental disability retirement benefits after a fall under circumstances where he knew that a corridor floor could be wet if prisoners failed to close a curtain that separated the corridor from a shower area. The hazard posed was one the guard could readily anticipate and, as such, did not result from an unexpected event (Jonigan v McCall, 291 AD2d 766). In this case, Claimant was in a position to see what there was to be seen and could have reasonably anticipated the condition of the bathroom floor since it was his testimony that he had complained that it was “consistently wet.”

Moreover, Claimant did not say how wet the floor was. The record provides no evidence to establish that there were puddles, standing water, or any significant accumulation of water. Indeed, Correction Officer Gonzalez testified that he did not see any water on the bathroom floor. Thus, the Court concludes that the floor was moist or wet, but not abnormally so. Rather, there was the usual amount of water for such an area, an amount that was to be expected and, thus, an amount that was “necessarily incidental” to the use of the showers and bathroom (see Conroy v Saratoga Springs Auth., 259 App Div 365, 367, affd 284 NY 723; Moore v State of New York, Claim No. 103850, dated September 16, 2004, Fitzpatrick, J. [UID No. 2004-018-330]).

A property owner who has actual knowledge of the tendency of a particular dangerous condition to reoccur also can be charged with constructive notice of each specific reoccurrence of that condition (Weisenthal v Pickman, 153 AD2d 849). Since Claimant failed to establish the existence of a dangerous condition on the date of the accident, the Court concludes that the evidence relating to complaints lodged and the condition of the bathroom floor itself is inadequate to establish that Defendant had actual knowledge of an ongoing and recurring dangerous condition so that it could be held to have constructive notice of the condition on August 1, 2000 (see Streeter v State of New York, Claim No. 102595, dated January 31, 2005, Sise, P.J. [UID No. 2005-028-001; Perez v State of New York, Claim No. 107215, dated June 28, 2005, Ruderman, J. [UID No.2005-010-038]).

To be sure, there are limits to the risks “necessarily incidental” to showers and bathrooms. Hence, a slippery condition was not “necessarily incidental” to the use of a student locker room where showers, equipped with a drying area, were located at least 20 to 30 feet away from the site of the accident (Van Stry v State of New York, 104 AD2d 553). Those limits have not been breached, however, in this case.

Moreover, assuming arguendo the wet floor constituted a dangerous condition, Claimant did not establish that Defendant either created or had actual or constructive notice of its existence. There is no evidence that Defendant created the condition. As to notice, no evidence was presented regarding other slip and fall accidents in the bathroom. Claimant did testify that he complained to Officer Gonzalez about the wet bathroom floor. It is not clear, however, whether any such complaint was lodged on the morning of the accident, or whether he was recounting comments made on some earlier date(s). Mr. Price testified “I was a porter in this dorm and I informed CO Gonzalez – he works in the morning – that the floor is consistently wet in the bathroom.” In fact, it is not clear from the record that Mr. Price could have complained to Officer Gonzalez on the morning of the accident. What is certain is that Officer Gonzalez worked the afternoon shift on August 1, 2000 and was present when the accident occurred. On cross-examination, however, Officer Gonzalez could not recall if he also worked his usual morning assignment on that date. Claimant testified to other comments he made to Officer Gonzalez about shaky sinks and wet floors, but again failed to establish when they were made. Thus, the record does not establish that Defendant was put on actual notice about the condition of the bathroom floor on August 1, 2000.

Assuming that a dangerous condition existed presents a closer question as to whether or not Defendant had constructive notice of the wet floor. The Court concludes, however, that it did not. To constitute constructive notice, the wet floor would need to have been visible and apparent and the condition must have existed for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit Defendant to discover and remedy it (Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837). The Court already has determined that the floor was moist or wet, but not abnormally so. The Court concludes further that the amount of moisture on the bathroom floor was insufficient to create a condition that was, or should have been, visible and apparent to Officer Gonzalez, much less one that existed for a sufficient period of time to permit its discovery and remediation (see Guttierez v Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, 4 AD3d 138). Claimant’s testimony establishes only that some generic complaints about wet floors were made at indeterminate date(s) in the months preceding his accident. A general awareness that the floor could become wet after inmates showered is legally insufficient to constitute actual or constructive notice of the particular condition that allegedly caused the accident (see Piacquadio v Recine Realty Corp., 84 NY2d 967; Gallais-Pradel v YMCA of Brooklyn, 33 AD3d 660; Gibson v State of New York, 13 Misc 3d 1244[A], 2004 WL 5050882 [NY Ct Cl]; Reid v State of New York, 8 Misc3d 1007[A], 2005 WL 1536298 [NY Ct Cl]).

To the extent that the shattering sink can be regarded as a dangerous condition, there is no evidence in the record to establish that the sink in question, or any other sink in the G-1 dormitory, had ever fractured or shattered in a similar fashion. That one sink was reported to be falling off the wall on April 11, 2000 did not put the State on notice that a corner of a sink – not necessarily the same sink – would shatter four months later.

Claimant also suggests that Defendant breached a duty to him by failing to place a floor mat at the back entrance between the shower and the bathroom. The Court may be inclined to agree that the State’s laudable effort to prevent slips and falls in the G-1 dormitory through the utilization of mats appears to have been vitiated by the policy decision to place one in front of a usually locked shower entrance, but not in front of the one habitually used. However, other courts have declined to find liability in similar cases where there were no mats at all. “If the Court were to accept that argument, then all lavatory rooms similar to the subject one would have to have wall-to-wall mats, since water is inevitably tracked throughout such lavatory rooms by persons who take showers and use wash basins. There is no such requirement in law. Lavatory room floors, where there are shower stalls and wash basins, are wet by their very nature. That is a fact of life.” (Figueroa v State of New York, Claim No. 103392, dated September 29, 2003, Lebous, J. [UID No. 2003-019-008], quoting Cuevas v State of New York, Claim No. 85501, filed January 13, 1997, Hanifin, J.; see also, Traub v Progress Country Club, 256 App Div 249; Moore v State of New York, Claim No. 103850, dated September 16, 2004, Fitzpatrick, J. [UID No. 2004-018-330]). Similarly, no liability was found where the State provided floor mats in the peripheral areas of a shower (see Quinones v State of New York, Claim No. 101522, filed August 2, 2002, Corbett, J.). This Court declines to reach a different conclusion where, as here, the record indicates that Defendant has made a significant, if imperfect, effort to prevent slips and falls.

Finally, the Court rejects the suggestion that Claimant caused his injury by damaging the sink intentionally. While it does not affect the ultimate determination of this Claim, the Court concludes that Mr. Price’s behavior cannot be deemed to be a superceding cause of his accident such that it would have relieved Defendant had liability been found.

Accordingly, Defendant’s motion to dismiss, made at the conclusion of the trial and upon which the Court reserved decision, is now granted and the Claim is dismissed.

The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

March 19, 2007
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1].All quotations are taken from the audiotape recording of the trial.