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
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
When shown the inmate injury report,
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
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
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
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
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
Accordingly, the claim must be DISMISSED.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.