At approximately 5:00 p.m. on December 30, 2003, claimant, an employee of
United Parcel Service (UPS), arrived at a laboratory room on the first floor of
the Light Engineering Building at SUNY Stony Brook in Stony Brook, New York to
pick up a package for shipment. There, claimant met an unidentified
“Oriental” woman (T:10)
whom he presumed to be a student – who had called UPS to have the package
picked up. Claimant then sat on a chair in the laboratory room which
“simultaneously” (T:11) collapsed underneath him as he sat upon it,
and he sustained injuries to his left hand and fingers. After the incident,
claimant noticed that the chair was broken in several pieces, and that the metal
legs of the chair were “pushed out” from the base of the seat of the
chair. Claimant described the chair as being “[j]ust a regular
chair” (T:11) that was similar to other chairs in the laboratory room.
Claimant did not notice anything unusual about the chair before he sat down upon
Within two months of the accident, claimant returned to the same SUNY Stony
Brook laboratory room to take pictures of the collapsed chair. That chair was
no longer in the room, but the “Oriental” woman who had been present
in the laboratory room when the chair collapsed was there again, and she
informed claimant that she had taken pictures of the chair, which she later
e-mailed to claimant (see Claimant’s Exhibits 1, 5 and 7). Since
the collapsed chair was no longer there, claimant took photographs of other
chairs in the laboratory room that were similar in appearance to the collapsed
chair (see Claimant’s Exhibits 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 11).
An incident report completed by the SUNY Stony Brook Police on December 30,
2003 indicated that claimant had a medical emergency at “Campus Drive
(Loop Area)” and that claimant “cut his hand while delivering
boxes” (Claimant’s Exhibit 13). No other official SUNY Stony Brook
record was introduced at trial to document claimant’s accident. Professor
John Kincaid, who was Deputy Chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department in
December 2003, likely would have been informed of claimant’s accident, but
he had no knowledge of the claimant’s accident until after this claim was
filed. Robert Martin, Operations Manager for the College of Engineering at SUNY
Stony Brook, whose duties included overseeing the operations and maintenance of
the Light Engineering Building, did not receive any complaints about the
condition of the chairs in the Light Engineering Building prior to December 30,
2003. Moreover, Martin did not recall learning of the accident or the existence
of a damaged chair in the Light Engineering Building until sometime in 2006.
Further, both Kincaid and Martin testified that the designated area for the
pickup and delivery of UPS packages for the Light Engineering Building was a
room in the basement of the old engineering building.
As an initial matter, defendant adduced evidence at trial that sought to
impeach claimant’s testimony as to how and where he had injured his hand
at Stony Brook that day. However, the Court found claimant’s testimony to
be credible and finds that claimant did in fact suffer injuries in the manner
described in his trial testimony. Notwithstanding this finding, claimant has
failed to prove that defendant is liable for his injuries.
It is axiomatic that liability for a dangerous condition on defendant’s
property will lie only in those cases where the defendant either created the
dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice thereof (see
Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837 ;
Zuppardo v State of New York, 186 AD2d 561, 562 [2d Dept 1992]).
“To constitute constructive notice, a defect must be visible and apparent
and it must exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to
permit a defendant's employees to discover and remedy it” (Gordon,
At the trial of this claim, there was absolutely no proof that defendant
created the dangerous condition. Further, the evidence adduced at trial failed
to establish that defendant had actual notice of the defective chair. Indeed,
Martin credibly testified that he had not heard any complaints about the
condition of any of the chairs in the Light Engineering Building prior to
claimant’s accident. Thus, the threshold question of notice turns on
whether defendant may be charged with constructive notice that the chair was
defective. Claimant himself did not notice anything wrong with the chair prior
to sitting on it, and there was no other testimony or other evidence as to the
condition of the chair prior to or after claimant’s accident, which
militates against a finding that the defect was visible and apparent.
Additionally, there is a glaring lack of proof as to how long the chair existed
in its defective condition so as to conclude that defendant had a sufficient
period of time to remedy the defect.
Accordingly, in the absence of evidence that the defect was visible and apparent
and that it existed for a period of time, claimant has failed to demonstrate
that defendant should be charged with constructive notice of the defective
Claimant’s argument that defendant knew or should have known of the
existence of the defective chair through regular inspections is unavailing. He
cites no authority for the proposition that defendant had an obligation to make
regular inspections of the chair, and even if there were such an obligation, it
would only create a duty to inspect. Claimant adduced no evidence that such a
duty, if it existed, was breached, and thus, this argument does not permit a
finding of constructive notice.
Proof of actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition is not required
if the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is
(see Levinstim v Parker
27 AD3d 698 [2d Dept 2006]; Parsons v State of New York
, 31 AD2d 596 [3d
Dept 1968]; Katz v Goldring
, 237 App Div 824 [2d Dept 1932]).
“Where the actual or specific cause of an accident is unknown, under the
doctrine of res ipsa loquitur [the fact finder] may in certain circumstances
infer negligence merely from the happening of an event and the defendant’s
relation to it” (Kambat v St. Francis Hosp.
, 89 NY2d 489, 494
). The inference of negligence is permitted if the proof establishes that
“(1) the event must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the
absence of someone’s negligence; (2) it must be caused by an agency or
instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; (3) it must not
have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the
[claimant]” (Corcoran v Banner Super Mkt.
, 19 NY2d 425, 430 ,
Prosser, Torts, § 39, p. 218 [3d ed.]; see also
Morejon v Rais Constr. Co.
, 7 NY3d 203, 209 ; Kambat
At trial, claimant failed to prove the “exclusive control” element
of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine. “While it is true that [claimant] need
not establish that there was only a single person or entity in control of the
item that caused the injury” (Raimondi v New York Racing Assn., 213
AD2d 708, 709 [2d Dept 1995]), claimant must prove that defendant or its agents
exercised “sufficient exclusivity [over the defective chair] to fairly
rule out the chance that the defect in the [chair] was caused by some agency
other than defendant’s negligence” (id.; see also
Dermatossian v New York City Tr. Auth., 67 NY2d 219, 227 ;
Loiacono v Stuyvesant Bagels, Inc., 29 AD3d 537 [2d Dept 2006]).
Claimant has failed to prove “sufficient exclusivity” over the
defective chair, as there was no evidence adduced at trial that defendant or its
agents controlled or restricted access to the laboratory room in which the
defective chair was located. Indeed, claimant’s own testimony illustrated
that he was free to access the laboratory room that contained the chair on two
occasions. Moreover, on both occasions he encountered the same woman whom he
assumed to be a student, not an employee, of SUNY Stony Brook, further
demonstrating that individuals who were not defendant’s agent had access
to the room and the chair. Thus, claimant has not proven his entitlement to the
res ipsa loquitur inference.