New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LANNO v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-010-005, Claim No. 107468


Inmate slip and fall dismissed, no notice of condition, claimant’s own negligence sole proximate cause of fall.

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):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant’s attorney:
Defendant’s attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Wanda Perez-Maldonado, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 17, 2009
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant seeks damages for injuries she sustained during her incarceration at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (Bedford), when, on July 31, 2001, she slipped and fell on a wet floor. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.

Claimant testified that, at approximately 8:15 a.m.on July 31, 2001, Correction Officer Bailey-McGarrel (C.O. Bailey-McGarrel) directed claimant to retrieve a mop, stored near the slop sink in the rear of the laundry room, for the purpose of mopping a wet floor (T:10-11).[1] Claimant maintains that she was not told the location of the wet area (T:15). Claimant, who weighed 320 pounds (T:14) and was wearing State-issued boots with a “plastic” bottom (T:15), proceeded to the laundry room.
When claimant entered the laundry room, she did not observe any water on the floor or any wet floor signs displayed. She walked beyond the washing machines to the sink, but did not find the mop. While at the sink, claimant rinsed her coffee cup and then retraced her steps. Before reaching the laundry room exit, claimant slipped and fell on soapy water (T:14). According to claimant, at that point, she noticed water “shot out” from one of the washing machines (id.) and observed more than a gallon of water on the floor (T:68). Claimant conceded that while she was proceeding towards the exit, she had not been looking down at the floor (T:78)[2]. She just stepped into the water and fell. C.O. Bailey-McGarrel responded to the scene of claimant’s fall and completed a memorandum regarding the accident (Ex. 6). Claimant testified that the purpose of the memorandum was to record the event and not to provide every single detail.

While claimant testified that she had previously complained about the washing machines because they were broken “a million times” (T:42), she could neither identify the recipient of her complaints nor specify when she had made the complaints (T:28). Claimant also maintained that, after her fall, she had a conversation with C.O. Bailey-McGarrel who stated that, despite several attempts to repair the washing machines, the repair had never been done properly.

Claimant’s testimony regarding the allegedly faulty washing machines was not persuasive (T:28, 32, 41). Detracting from her credibility were the numerous inconsistencies between her trial testimony and her examination before trial. For example, at trial claimant testified that she had witnessed prior floods in the laundry room because she worked in maintenance (T:32-33); however, at her examination before trial, she described her work assignment as “outside grounds and landscape” (T:36-38). Additionally, claimant conceded at her deposition that, prior to her fall, she had no knowledge of any problems with the washing machines.

C.O. Bailey-McGarrel testified that, on July 31, 2001, during her 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. shift (T:93), she noticed water on the laundry room floor and called for maintenance (T:99-100). She also directed claimant to clean up the water in the laundry room (T:102, 114). While Bailey-McGarrel did not recall the exact words of her conversation with claimant, Bailey-McGarrel was certain that there would have been mops in the laundry room (T:105). Prior to claimant’s fall, Bailey-McGarrel was not aware of any other inmate falls in the laundry room (T:107) and she had no personal knowledge of malfunctioning washing machines. Bailey-McGarrel further testified that she did not recall any conversation with claimant regarding the washing machines or their repair (T:105-06).

Claimant presented an incident report dated July 28, 2001, regarding an inmate slip and fall on water in the laundry room (Ex. 11). The report, however, does not indicate the source of the water and it cannot be gleaned from the report that the water was attributable to a faulty washing machine.

Mark Hayo testified that he has been employed by the New York State Department of Correctional Services at Bedford for 18½ years and has been the Plant Superintendent for the last 2½ years (T:130-31). At the time of claimant’s accident, he was a Maintenance Supervisor III and oversaw a maintenance staff of 15 people (T:131). In this position, he processed work orders, assigned tasks, and was responsible for maintenance of the washing machines. He attended two training sessions, provided by the manufacturer, concerning repair of the machines and he supervised the individuals who fixed the machines (T:135).

Hayo testified that the laundry cabinets and soap dispensers were inspected weekly (T:136). He explained that the washing machines were installed on a raised concrete platform. Water entered through the back of the machines and at the appropriate cycle emptied water into a troth that flowed down to a drain behind the machines (T:138-39). Hayo never witnessed a large quantity of water “shoot out” of the machines and never observed water on the laundry room floor (T:142). He further noted that there was an extra lip on the platform for the purposes of containing any water. Hayo testified that inmates were not assigned to maintenance.

It is well established that the State has a duty to maintain its facilities in a reasonably safe condition (Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997). 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; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874).

In order to prevail on her claim, claimant must show: the existence of a foreseeably dangerous condition; that the State created the condition or had either actual or constructive notice of the condition; that the State failed to remedy the condition within a reasonable time; that such condition was a proximate cause of claimant's accident; and that claimant sustained damages (see Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836; Birthwright v Mid-City Sec., 268 AD2d 401; Mercer v City of New York, 223 AD2d 688, affd 88 NY2d 955). Further:
“[w]here the facts proven show that there are several possible causes of an injury, for one or more of which the defendant was not responsible, and it is just as reasonable and probable that the injury was the result of one cause as the other, plaintiff cannot have a recovery, since he has failed to prove that the negligence of the defendant caused the injury.”

(Ingersoll v Liberty Bank of Buffalo, 278 NY 1, 7; see also Bernstein v City of New York, 69 NY2d 1020; Marchetto v State of New York, 179 AD2d 947).

Upon consideration of all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that there is a lack of credible evidence to establish claimant’s burden of proof (see Seneglia v FPL Foods, 273 AD2d 221 [no evidence that defendant created or had either actual or constructive notice of a wet floor upon which plaintiff fell]). Significantly, claimant “presented no proof with respect to how long the puddle in question was on the floor before she fell” (Deveau v CF Galleria at White Plains, LP, 18 AD3d 695, 695-96).

In addition to the previously noted detractions from claimant’s credibility, the Court finds that claimant’s version of the events preceding her fall strains credulity. Specifically, claimant’s testimony is not believable that while she allegedly had prior knowledge of a faulty washing machine because it had been broken “a million times,” she proceeded into the laundry room without noticing a torrent of water which, according to claimant,“shot out” more than a gallon of water onto the floor and it was not until she retraced her steps toward the exit that she noticed the alleged condition. Not only is claimant’s account not worthy of belief, if indeed there had been such a condition present, then claimant was bound to see that which was readily observable with a proper use of her senses and she had a duty to conduct herself accordingly (see Luksch v Blum-Rohl Fishing Corp., 3 AD3d 475 [if alleged condition described by plaintiff as “very wet with standing water pooling in spots” was open and obvious, then it is a factor to be considered in assessing plaintiff’s comparative negligence in failing to avoid the condition]; Stasiak v Sears, Roebuck & Co., 281 AD2d 533 [complaint dismissed in slip and fall case where plaintiff could have easily observed puddle of spilled paint]). Indeed, when an inmate fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course of conduct, she must take responsibility for her own negligence (see Carter v State of New York, 194 AD2d 967).

Additionally, the Court finds that there was a lack of evidence sufficient to establish that the State had notice of a potentially dangerous condition in the laundry room. Significantly, there is no basis for finding that the floor had been wet for an appreciable length of time prior to claimant’s fall so as to permit defendant to rectify the condition prior to claimant’s fall (see Goberdhan v Waldbaum’s Supermarket, 295 AD2d 564 [in the absence of proof as to how long the puddle of water was on the floor, there is no evidence which would permit an inference that defendants had constructive notice of the condition]). Unlike Kellogg v State of New York, Ct Cl, April 30, 2004, Ruderman, J., Claim No. 101872, UID #2004-010-012, where this Court found in favor of the claimant because the evidence established that the State had notice of a leaking soap dispenser and had failed to properly maintain it, here the Court finds a lack of credible evidence to establish that the State had notice of a faulty washing machine which leaked and posed a potential hazard of a wet laundry room floor. The Court finds that the incident report dated July 28, 2001, regarding an inmate slip and fall on water in the laundry room (Ex. 11), is but one prior accident and was not sufficiently detailed to establish that the source of the water was similar to that alleged by claimant. In any event, proof of a “ ‘general awareness’ ” that a dangerous condition may be present is legally insufficient to constitute constructive notice of the particular condition that allegedly caused plaintiff’s fall (see Gonzalez v Jenel Mgt. Corp., 11 AD3d 656, 656-57 [citing Piacquadio v Recine Realty Corp., 84 NY2d 967, 969]). In sum, there is no basis, on the evidence presented, for finding that the floor had been wet for an appreciable length of time prior to claimant’s accident and that defendant failed to rectify such condition within a reasonable time (see Puryear v New York City Hous. Auth., 255 AD2d 138, 139 [plaintiff failed to establish that particular puddle existed for sufficient time to enable defendant to rectify]). Accordingly, claimant failed to establish that defendant was negligent and that such negligence was a proximate cause of her fall.

Claimant’s alternative theory of liability that the State failed to provide a safe workplace is also unavailing. While the New York State Labor Law provisions may be relevant in establishing a standard of care, the provisions are not binding on the State with regard to inmate work duties and responsibilities (D’Argenio v Village of Homer, 202 AD2d 883). Rather, the State’s duty is to apprise inmates of any known dangers which an inmate might not reasonably be expected to discover (see Felle v W.W. Grainger, Inc., 302 AD2d 971). An inmate performing a work assignment is responsible for the failure to use ordinary care (see Carter v State of New York, 194 AD2d 967, supra).

Here, having been directed to obtain a mop for the purposes of addressing a wet floor at an undisclosed location, claimant should have been using her senses to anticipate the possibility of encountering a wet floor. Clearly, claimant’s own negligence was the sole proximate cause of her fall.

Accordingly, Claim No. 107468 is dismissed.


March 17, 2009
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. All references to the trial transcript are preceded by the letter “T.”
[2]. At this point in the questioning, and in apparent explanation of why she was not looking where she was walking, Claimant “just remembered right now” (T:81) that another inmate was nearby and that claimant was telling this unidentified inmate there was no mop in the laundry room (T:78-80).