New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JORDAN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-029-056, Claim No. 113331


Synopsis


Defendant found 50% liable for slip and fall injury sustained by visitor to Green Haven Correctional Facility.

Case Information

UID:
2009-029-056
Claimant(s):
ANGELA JORDAN
Claimant short name:
JORDAN
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
113331
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Claimant’s attorney:
KUJAWSKI & DELLICARPINIBy: Mark C. Kujawski, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBy: Dian Kerr McCullough, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
August 25, 2009
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant seeks damages for a January 26, 2006 incident in which she slipped and fell on a wet floor at Green Haven Correctional Facility. Claimant, who was at the facility to visit her son who was an inmate, contends that the incident was the result of negligence on the part of defendant’s employees.


Claimant testified that she and her husband went to visit their son, who was incarcerated at Green Haven, on the date in question. They arrived at Green Haven a few minutes after noon. She stated they went in the main entrance and proceeded to the package desk which was straight ahead from the entrance door. She gave her package to the officer at the desk and after five or ten minutes, during which the officer examined the items she brought for her son, she was directed to the locker area near the front door to store her personal items and the few items she was not allowed to bring to her son. Claimant testified that she saw one or two inmates in the area as she walked to the locker area and that one had a mop in his hand. She also noticed a bucket on the floor and a “rectangular type sign” that said “Caution” (Trial Minutes, p 30). She stated she tried to stay as close to the reception desk as possible because there was a runner covering the tile floor, but that in order to get to the lockers she had to step off the runner and onto the tile floor. In that specific area – the tile floor between the runner and the locker area – she did not see any inmates, officers, mops or signs.

Claimant stated her husband was walking in front of her, he stepped off the runner, she followed and, on her first step on the tile, her “foot made a slip” and she fell to the ground (id., p 32).

On cross-examination, claimant acknowledged that she knew that visiting hours were over at 2:30 p.m. and that she was eager to see her son, but she denied being in a “hurry” (id., p 34). She maintained that nobody warned her that the floor was wet.

Claimant’s husband testified that he did not see any inmates working at the facility when he arrived with his wife and sister-in-law, Eusteen Debber. He could not recall seeing any Caution signs nor did he see any mops in the area. He stated that he walked down the runner towards the locker area, followed by his wife and then his sister-in-law. As he stepped from the runner onto the tile floor, the floor was wet and his foot slipped but he was able to catch himself and did not fall. Immediately afterwards, he heard his wife yelling and he turned and saw her on the floor.

Correction Officer William Leete identified himself as the ID room officer and described his duties as taking all necessary photographs in the facility, including photographs of incidents such as slip-and-falls. He identified a series of seven photographs (Exhibits G through M) that he took in 2009 as fairly and accurately representing the layout of the front gate processing area as it existed on the date of claimant’s accident. Leete testified that he was ordered to the area at about 12:30 p.m. on January 26, 2006 and took several photographs in accordance with facility procedure. These photographs were not produced at trial or in pretrial disclosure (see footnote 1).

Correction Officer Kendra Driver was assigned to the visitor processing area on the date of claimant’s accident. She testified that the procedure was that if a visitor had a package, they would have to proceed first to the package area for it to be examined, and if there was any item in the package that was not allowed in the facility, the visitor had the option of taking it back to their personal vehicle or storing it in one of the lockers. Officer Driver stated that Officer Morris was assigned to the package area and Officer Pratts was assigned to the front gate frisk area. Two inmate porters were also assigned to the area, mopping the floors. The general procedure for floor mopping was that the inmates would “cordon off” the area they were going to mop and put up yellow “Wet Floor” signs, mopping only half of the floor area at a time, “and leave the other half dry so there was a space for people to walk” (id., p 79). According to Driver, there were six signs that were used in the front gate processing area. [1]

Officer Driver recalled seeing claimant, with two other people, at the package desk. At that time, there were two inmates mopping the area by the lockers. She did not see claimant fall but became aware of the incident when she saw someone waving from across the room. After a few minutes, she left her post and went over to the locker area (Exhibit J) and saw claimant on the floor. She could not recall if the floor was wet or damp when she got there.

Correction Officer Richard Morris was the front gate package room officer on the date in question. He advised that visitors are processed from 7:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. and that the mornings are generally busier than the afternoons. When a visitor arrives with a package, the contents are checked and any unauthorized items are given to the visitor with instructions to put the items in their car or in a locker. Officer Morris stated that two inmate porters worked in the area and their responsibilities included mopping the floors. They would generally start mopping at the front of the building, proceed to the package room and finish around the locker area. There were six Wet Floor signs in the area that the inmates would use as they mopped section by section, using the signs to cordon off each area in turn.

Officer Morris recalled claimant arriving at the package room counter sometime after noon on the date in question. He checked the package she had brought for her son and found some items that were not allowed in the facility. After he advised her that visiting hours would be over in less than an hour, claimant headed towards the locker area, where the inmate porters were mopping the floor. According to Officer Morris, claimant’s husband remained with him at the package counter while claimant walked over to the locker area. Morris could not see claimant fall from the package room, but about 20 to 30 seconds after she left his counter he heard a commotion and went over and saw claimant lying on the floor about six feet short of the lockers. Officer Pratts and two inmates, with a mop and pails, were also there. His recollection was that claimant’s husband followed him over to the locker area after claimant fell.

Wilfredo Pratts, a State Court Officer at the time of trial, was a Correction Officer at Green Haven in January 2006 and was assigned as the front gate frisk officer on the date in question. His description of the floor washing routine was the same as that given by Officers Driver and Morris, in particular that the mopping was done in sections, depending on the number of visitors in the area. “If it was too busy in one side, then they’d go to another area, but it was done in sections” (id., p 129). He also stated “[t]hey would put up the wet floor signs in a square, and, you know, that’s the area they would mop within the wet floor signs” (id.). Pratts testified that when he first saw claimant, she was standing in an area that he marked on Exhibit H, an area on the tile floor between the runner and the lockers. He stated that it looked like she was preparing to walk over to the lockers and he informed her that she couldn’t walk there, that the floor was wet. She told him “I have to get my things” and he allegedly responded that she would have to wait until the floor dried, which shouldn’t take long (id., p 136). Pratts then walked away, towards the package room. “A few minutes later,” one of the inmates informed him that a visitor had fallen and he walked back to the locker area and saw a woman on the floor (id., p 136). He asked her if she was okay and she told him her wrist hurt. He also stated that there was a man next to him or behind him who said “she’s hurt, you know, we’re going to sue” (id., p 137). He identified that man as claimant’s husband.

On cross-examination, claimant’s counsel pointed out that in his memo to the sergeant written at the time of the incident, Pratts made no mention of having spoken with claimant before her fall. Pratts stated that he did not believe that to be pertinent at the time he wrote the memo.

The State of New York has the same duty of care as applies to any landowner: to maintain its property in reasonably safe condition in view of all the relevant circumstances (Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233). Given the ample testimony as to the slippery condition of the floor in the Green Haven reception area after it was mopped, about which there was no dispute, the court has little trouble concluding that the condition of the floor in front of the locker area constituted a dangerous condition at the time of claimant’s visit. There is no issue as to defendant’s notice of the condition, since it was created by inmates under the supervision and direction of defendant’s employees (Peralta v Henriquez, 100 NY2d 139; Lewis v Metropolitan Transp. Auth., 64 NY2d 670, affg on op 99 AD2d 246), and thus no question that defendant had a duty to post adequate warnings of the condition and perhaps cordon off the specific area that had just been mopped.

Given the court’s prior rulings on the spoliation issue, there was no proof that defendant fulfilled its duty of care by posting adequate warning of the slippery condition of the floor in the area adjacent to the visitor lockers. The court thus finds defendant liable for claimant’s injuries. Nevertheless, the court further finds that claimant must share in the responsibility for her fall. Claimant conceded that she had seen an inmate with a mop in his hand and had seen a warning sign somewhere in the building, and she acknowledged that she tried to stay on the runner when she could because the floor was wet. It is apparent that when she stepped off the runner onto the tile floor, she did not exercise the degree of caution warranted by what knowledge she did have of the floor’s condition, even in light of the court’s finding that the warning in the locker area was inadequate. The court apportions liability of 50% each for the accident.

Accordingly, the Clerk of the Court is directed to enter interlocutory judgment in accordance with this decision. The parties will be notified of the date scheduled for a trial on damages.


August 25, 2009
White Plains, New York

HON. STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1].Officer Driver, as well as Officers Morris and Pratts testified that there were “Caution Wet Floor” signs posted right where claimant fell. Prior to commencement of trial, claimant moved to preclude defendant from introducing any evidence of such signs, based on the deposition testimony of both Driver and Morris that photographs of the area were taken immediately after the incident and defendant’s subsequent loss of the photographs. The court granted the motion (see Order dated April 28, 2009 and filed May 4, 2009 and Transcript of Pretrial Conference dated April 28, 2009). At the conclusion of trial, the court stated that the testimony as to the general practice and procedure was unaffected by the prior preclusion order, which was based on “a non-willful negligent spoliation of what would have been probably the best single demonstrative exhibit, which is the pictures that were taken that day of the area where claimant fell.” However, the court is going to “ignore the testimony of the witnesses as to what they saw on that day” with respect to signs (TM, pp 153, 154).