New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MYERS v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-018-023, Claim No. 105676


The Claimant did not establish that the State was negligent. The State regularly inspected the equipment and had no notice that this weight bench was broken or defective. Claimant, himself, testified he noticed no problem with the bench until it broke after many lifting repetitions. Without notice of a dangerous condition, the State cannot be liable for damages.

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:
Defendant’s attorney:
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: G. Lawrence Dillon, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
April 6, 2009

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant brought this action seeking damages for injuries he received while an inmate at Oneida Correctional Facility (hereinafter OCF). The matter was bifurcated and this Decision relates to liability only.

Claimant testified that he had been at OCF for a couple of weeks when, on June 23, 2000, he was bench-pressing weights after dinner in what is called the big yard. The area, which is surrounded by a chainlink fence with a gate, has weights and is covered. Claimant testified that when it rained or snowed, the lifting equipment would get wet since the bench-press area, although covered, had no solid walls. Claimant had to wipe the equipment dry on occasion. The bench-pressing station was a flat bench with an attached rack to rest the barbell between repetitions. Claimant and two other inmates were rotating through sets of repetitions, one man would do his lifting and one would be a spotter. The weightlifting equipment was used quite a bit at OCF. Claimant began his workout doing five sets of ten repetitions with 135 lbs., which was his warmup. The three inmates continued to increase the weight they lifted up to 315 lbs. Claimant testified each plate they attached to the barbell weighed 45 lbs., and the bar itself weighed 45 lbs. Claimant said that it was not a lot of weight for him, as he has been lifting weights since 1986. He intended to do five repetitions with 315 lbs., when, on his fourth lift, a bolt under the bench snapped. The bench slid and hit the rack for the barbell while Claimant was holding the weight over his head, which went out of control. The spotter and two others tried to help, but Claimant’s pectoral muscle was ripped as a result.

Claimant said he was in the worst pain of his life. After he placed the weight bar back on the rack, his left hand would not release the bar. When his left hand was released, it dropped and his chest swelled. Another inmate helped him up and a correction officer came over and Claimant showed him what had happened to the bench. Claimant was then taken to the infirmary and then to Rome Hospital.

When shown the inmate injury report,[1] which reflects as the cause of the injury,

“bench[-]pressed 315 lb [sic] - left chest blew up,” Claimant said he did not read it prior to signing it because the nurse told him he couldn’t go to the hospital if he didn’t sign it. The nurse wrote down what she chose and he had to sign it to go to the hospital. Claimant testified that the doctor at Rome Hospital told the correction officer to bring him back in a couple of days for surgery after the swelling went down. Seventeen months later, Claimant had the surgery.

On cross-examination, Claimant testified inconsistently with his direct testimony about the number of sets and repetitions he did on the day of his injury. Claimant indicated that the weights he was using that day were removable from the weight bar, not welded to the bar. He said he would gather the weights he wanted and place them where he planned to work out. Other inmates could borrow them. Claimant rested between each group of sets at each weight level while the other two inmates lifted, which usually took a few minutes. Claimant testified that he had done 25 sets before the bench snapped, and there seemed to be nothing wrong with the bench before it broke. The two other inmates with whom he was lifting that day were from his former neighborhood, although he didn’t know their legal names at the time of his deposition; after they were all released from prison, he learned their names. Claimant testified he never saw anyone at OCF inspect the equipment for defects.

Fran Redmond was the Recreation Program Leader at OCF in June 2000, and he was called to testify. He was a civilian employee and his duties included maintaining the recreation equipment and fields, supervising the “rec aides” (inmate workers), as well as running various leagues. His hours were usually from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and he shared responsibilities with one full-time employee and one part-time employee. In June of 2000, Mr. Redmond would have been running flag football, softball, and basketball programs. There would be one competitive game per night scheduled by the recreation department, and they would supervise and collect the equipment after the game. On occasion, Mr. Redmond would assist with nonrecreational activities.

Safety inspections of the equipment is the recreation department’s responsibility; however, the correction officers would assist during security inspections. Equipment is inspected and accounted for daily by the recreation staff and the correction officers, and if any equipment was in need of repair, Mr. Redmond, one of his associates, or a correction officer would remove it from use and take it to the repair shop. Mr. Redmond would personally check the equipment a couple of times a week, spending between five and ten minutes each time. There was no written policy regarding inspection of the weight equipment nor was there any procedure on how the equipment should be checked.

Mr. Redmond testified that there were two weightlifting areas at OCF in early 2000. The large yard is a covered pavilion and the small yard is an area open to the elements. In the large yard, there were Olympic weights and benches and standard weights and benches. There are also machines with pull-down weights, a universal machine with approximately eight different work stations, leg machines, and sit-up benches. Mr. Redmond testified that all of the weights are welded onto the lifting bar for security reasons. If any were found loose, they would be sent to the shop for rewelding.

If equipment needed to be repaired, Mr. Redmond testified, it would be noted in the recreation logbook. The logbook was entered into evidence[2] and contained references to equipment repairs and inspections. Mr. Redmond testified that it is important to document events and reviewed some of the items that were contained in the logbook. He also noted that inspection of the equipment is a security and safety issue; some broken items could be used as weapons.

Despite Mr. Redmond’s claim of daily inspections of the weight equipment, there are no consistent recordings of such in the logbook. At his deposition, Mr. Redmond said there were weekly inspections. However, Mr. Redmond did say that correction officers would also inspect the equipment, and they would notify him if repairs were needed. Between June 22 and July 2, 2000, there is no indication in the logbook that the weight equipment was inspected or that any repairs were needed. On cross-examination, Mr. Redmond testified that the logbook is basically a means to communicate with other members of the recreation staff rather than to document itemized activities. He said that there is no need to include everything he does in the logbook including inspections that don’t result in any problems. He reiterated that any bench which had torn padding would be pulled from the yard and sent to the shop because a ripped bench could be a hiding place for contraband. Although not all padding-replacement repairs would be noted in the logbook, any type of a more major repair would be written in the logbook. There was no entry in the logbook about the bench which broke while Claimant was using it; Mr. Redmond said the correction officers can just pull damaged equipment themselves, but they would advise him and it should be logged.

The State called Correction Officer Michael McGuire. He has been with the Department of Correctional Services for over 20 years, 19 of those years at OCF. He testified that the correction officers make continuous rounds in the yard. They watch the inmates lifting weights to be sure they have spotters and look for anything out of the ordinary. After the inmates leave, he and other officers search the yard area, including the benches, for contraband. If he finds any equipment in disrepair, he would remove it from the yard but would not record such activity in the officers’ logbook.

Officer McGuire identified many of the photographs in evidence and said they accurately depicted the weightlifting equipment at OCF. He said when he inspects the weight equipment he lifts the benches and checks all of the hollow areas. During this type of inspection he can tell if the bench is loose. Officer McGuire also testified that all of the Olympic weights are welded onto the bar because of the risk of inmates using them as weapons. The weights have been welded to the bars since approximately 1998.

According to the officers’ logbook, Officer McGuire was on duty when Claimant was injured. He wrote in the logbook that Claimant was complaining of chest pains so he called for a van to take Claimant to the infirmary. He said if Claimant had been injured by damaged equipment, he would have noted it in the logbook because the logbook is a legal document when inmates are injured. Officer McGuire would also have called the fire and safety officer to come and investigate and photograph the equipment.

The State also called Correction Officer Paul Henderson who had been with the Department of Correctional Services for 19 years and at OCF for 18 years. His duty station was in the gym. He testified that he would speak to Mr. Redmond regarding any broken or faulty equipment he found. He was asked about the logbook entry on the day of Claimant’s injury. He didn’t recall that day independently, and he didn’t make the notation about Claimant. He did say that the cause of any inmate injury would be noted in the logbook.

Officer Henderson, also, has conducted inspection of the equipment, looking for contraband or broken equipment. If he found any equipment that needed repair it would be removed from the yard and secured.

To establish a claim for negligence, it is Claimant’s burden to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant breached a duty of care by either creating or failing to correct a dangerous condition of which it had actual or constructive notice which proximately caused injury to Claimant (Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233; Solomon v City of New York , 66 NY2d 1026; Dapp v Larson, 240 AD2d 918).

Undisputedly, the State owes a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition (Basso, 40 NY2d at 233; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997). In its operation of an exercise facility, the State owes “the same level of care to assure that its equipment is reasonably safe and free from hazards.” (Valentine v State of New York, 192 Misc 2d 706, 707). The State’s duty extends to inmates at its correctional facilities (id.; Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910).

The Court, acting as the trier of fact must review the evidence, listen carefully to the witnesses’ testimony, observe their demeanor and assess their credibility in order to determine what factually happened and determine whether a prima facie case has been presented (see Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800; Schoonmaker v State of New York, 32 AD2d 1005; LaCourt v State of New York, Ct Cl, Mignano, J., dated July 25, 2002, Claim No. 96339 [UID # 2002-029-199]).

In this case, the Court finds Claimant’s testimony regarding how he was injured was persuasively contradicted by Correction Officer McGuire. Officer McGuire testified that the logbook entry of June 23, 2000, reflects Claimant complained of chest pain and he made no notation of a broken weight bench. This notation which was made relatively contemporaneously with the event, the Court finds convincing and is consistent with the “Report of Inmate Injury.”[3] Both Officer McGuire and Mr. Redmond testified that a weight bench with a broken supporting bar would have been noted in the logbooks, and the absence of any such entry in either logbook leads this Court to question Claimant’s account of the events leading to his injury.

Other discrepancies also made Claimant’s contention dubious, specifically, his position that he added 45-pound weights to the bar to reach 315 pounds, when the other testimony reflected that all the weights are welded to the lifting bar for safety purposes. Also, between direct and cross-examination, Claimant changed the number of lifting sets he performed before his injury. Although this contradiction, standing alone, would not have been cogent, being coupled with the other pointed discrepancies between Claimant’s version of events and the versions offered by the other witnesses leads this Court to conclude that Claimant has failed to establish his injury was caused by a broken weight bench.

Even if the Court were inclined to accept Claimant’s representation of how his injury occurred, Claimant did not establish that the State was negligent. The State regularly inspected the equipment and had no notice that this weight bench was broken or defective. Even Claimant testified he noticed no problem with the bench until it broke after many lifting repetitions. Without notice of a dangerous condition, the State cannot be liable in damages.

Accordingly, the claim must be DISMISSED.


April 6, 2009
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. Exhibit A.
[2]. Exhibit M.
[3].Exhibit A.