New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

EDWARDS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-030-001, Claim No. 113835


Claim dismissed after trial. Inmate claimant proceeding pro se failed to establish that State should be held liable for wet conditions in shower area where he slipped, fell and was injured. No evidence of water accumulation, soapy condition, no prior complaints. Ventilation system in place. No indication of what precautions might have rendered the area safer under the circumstances

Case Information

1 1.The caption has been amended to reflect the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption has been amended to reflect the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant’s attorney:
Defendant’s attorney:
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Signature date:
January 12, 2009
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Thomas Edwards, an inmate proceeding pro se, alleges in his written claim that he slipped, fell and was injured on May 30, 2006, after taking a shower, because defendant’s agents at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (Sing Sing) failed to properly maintain the shower area by keeping the windows open to prevent moisture accumulation, and failed to post warning signs regarding the wet floor. Trial of the matter was held on December 16, 2008.

At the trial claimant testified that he was preparing to leave the bathhouse at Sing Sing after showering, and had put his clothes on, when he slipped. As he tried to regain his balance, he fell face forward on his front teeth on the floor. An officer came and sent him to the infirmary, where he received treatment. Medical personnel gave him a “temporary cap”[2] on his front tooth, but no permanent caps were directed. Mr. Edwards said he cannot bite anything, his teeth are chipped, and the “only thing” he wants is to have his teeth permanently capped. He said he has a temporary cap now on one (1) of his front teeth - on the one that was “broken almost in half” - but the other three are “just chipped.” He seeks damages in the amount of $20,000.00.

Claimant testified that the bathhouse floor “never dries.” He said “they claim that windows are adequate ventilation, but that is not true.” Mr. Edwards explained that “the bathhouse is a large area with shower stalls. At any given time there will be between 20 and 80 showers going. There is no ventilation system, only windows. When it is cold out, nobody wants to have the windows open while you are in the shower. There’s no mats, and there’s really no area set aside for you to dress where it is dry. The whole room is just one big wet mess. Some type of tile is on the floor, and it is very slippery. If you are not very careful, you can fall at any time. There are some elevated areas where you could stand up and change and not be as wet, but once you step down you’re on the same wet tile floor.” He reiterated that he fell when he was “coming out of that area”. He was fully dressed with his sneakers on holding his bag of cosmetics.

Mr. Edwards filed a grievance regarding the incident. [Exhibit 1]. The grievance requests that rubber mats be placed in the area, that a ventilation system be installed, and that warning signs be posted. [Id.]. Claimant also sought “complete dental care” and “$20,000.00 for damages, pain and suffering.” [Id.]. An investigation report of the grievance notes that the investigator spoke with the state shop supervisor and learned that “small (1") mosaic tiles” covered the floor area of the bathhouse, “adequate for walking without slipping” and that rubber mats would present both a maintenance and security issue. [Id.]. Cleaning of mats would be an issue, and “items could be hidden under the mats.” [Id.]. The actual grievance decision, or any decision on appeal, was not submitted.

On cross-examination Mr. Edwards indicated he had only been at Sing Sing “for a couple of weeks” at the time of his fall. He was familiar with the facility, however, having been previously incarcerated there in 1995 for six months, as well as between 2000 through 2004. He said that “the bathhouse had actually gotten better since the last time” he was there. Nonetheless, he said
“the floor was all wet. There was no way to walk around the water. When you take a shower, you wear the shower shoes. Little plastic or rubber. They [the shower shoes] may be more suited to that type of terrain than sneakers.”

When asked if he filed a grievance for dental care, he said “no”, and that he was told that the only way he could get caps on his teeth would be if he paid for them. He said he was told he would need to get a dentist who could be approved to come into the facility, or if there was one “outside” that was approved, he would need to pay for correction officers to accompany him for security purposes. “This was the policy.”

A photocopy of a dental treatment record identified as that of claimant notes the fall on May 30, 2006, and subsequent treatment, but is largely illegible. [See Exhibit 3].

No other witnesses testified and no other relevant evidence was submitted on claimant’s direct case.

Paul O’Brien, the maintenance supervisor at Sing Sing “for five or six years”, testified briefly. He, too, described the bathhouse. He said
“it is a big room . . . set of showers - doubles on the west side of the building, on the east side the same but the first ten are automatic push buttons, mostly all the other showers are mixed valves where you turn them on and 20 showers come on.”

The floor surface of the bathhouse is all
“small, one-by-one or half-by-half tile . . . It’s a non-ceramic, non-slip tile though I’m not sure if it’s a non-slip tile . . . The bathhouse was done over a few years ago - about 5 or 6 maybe 7 years ago by outside contractors.”

When asked if there is a ventilation system, Mr. O’Brien said
“On the roof there is a big ventilation system that they turn on and it takes the steam out. Can’t say whether it’s always on, it’s up to the officer in charge to make sure it’s on.”

No other witnesses testified.
As the custodian of inmates the State is obligated to prevent foreseeable risks of harm, but it is not the insurer of the safety of inmates. Its duty is to exercise “reasonable care under the circumstances . . .” [Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241 (1976)], to protect against foreseeable risks of harm. For premises liability, a claimant must show that the State had actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition and failed to act reasonably to remedy it. Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836, 837 (1986). The State has a duty to “ ‘act as a reasonable man in maintaining property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury and the burden of avoiding the risk.’ ” Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 513, 478 NYS2d 829, 833 (1984); Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998, 466 NYS2d 952 (1983).

Defendant is not, however, an insurer of the safety of its premises as noted above. Negligence cannot be inferred solely from the happening of an accident. See Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850, 851(1985). Proof of “a ‘general awareness’ that a dangerous condition may be present” is not sufficient to establish notice of the particular condition causing a claimant to fall. Gonzalez v Jenel Mgt. Corp., 11 AD3d 656, 657 (2d Dept 2004).

Moreover, danger presented by a wet floor is “necessarily incidental” to the use of showers [see Conroy v Saratoga Springs Auth., 259 App Div 365, 367 (3d Dept 1940), affd 284 NY 723 (1940)][3], thus the presence of a wet floor in a bathhouse by itself does not constitute an unreasonably dangerous condition. See also O’Neil v Holiday Health & Fitness Ctrs. of N.Y., 5 AD3d 1009 (4th Dept 2004).

It is noted parenthetically, that “[a] warning sign is useless where the danger warned against is known . . . (citations omitted).” Herman v State of New York, 94 AD2d 161, 163-164 (2d Dept 1983), affd 63 NY2d 822 (1984). There is no evidence in this record that the use of signs would have prevented the claimant’s fall, given his familiarity with the area.

It is the claimant’s burden to prove his case by a preponderance of the credible evidence. As the trier of fact and law, charged with assessing the credibility of the witnesses and evaluating the evidence, [see Raynor v State of New York, 98 AD2d 865, 866 (3d Dept 1983)], the Court finds that the defendant is not responsible for the claimant’s slip, fall and resultant injury based upon consideration of the entire record. While claimant presented as a generally credible witness, and the Court is sympathetic to his concerns, simply because he slipped and fell in an area where wetness is expected the State’s liability is not established.

There was no evidence of the degree of accumulation of water, or that any unusual soapy condition was present that would add to any slipperiness in the area. See O’Neil v Holiday Health & Fitness Ctrs. of N.Y., supra. There was no showing that complaints had been made or that there had been prior falls to establish notice or constructive notice. See Jackson v State of New York, 51 AD3d 1251 (3d Dept 2008). A ventilation system was in place, according to the evidence, and claimant himself indicated that windows were left open. There was no evidence that the use of mats was (or was not) required in the area of claimant’s fall, nor was there any indication as to what reasonable precautions might have rendered the area safer under the circumstances.

This is because
“[l]avatory room floors, where there are shower stalls and wash basins, are wet by their very nature. That is a fact of life. In order to recover for injuries sustained as a result of a slip and fall in such an area, a Claimant must establish by credible proof that the lavatory room floor surface was not simply wet, but unusually slippery . . . That, Claimant completely failed to do. Further, Claimant presented no proof that there was an unusual water accumulation on the floor of this particular lavatory at the time of his accident and that the State had notice thereof (cf. VanStry v State of New York, 104 AD2d 553; 86 NY Jur 2d, Premises Liability, § 424).” Figueroa v State of New York, UID # 2003-019-008, Claim No. 103392 (Lebous, J., September 29, 2003) quoting Cuevas v State of New York , Claim No. 85501, Page 5 (Hanifin, J., January 13, 1997);
see also Price v State of New York, UID # 2007-040-015, Claim No. 108186 (McCarthy, J., March 19, 2007); Bargas v State of New York, UID # 2007-031-501, Claim No. 103627 (Minarik, J., March 14, 2007); Crawford v State of New York, UID # 2002-009-104, Claim No. 92395 (Midey, J., October 8, 2002).

The conditions of the shower area on the day of Mr. Edwards’ accident were “typical” ones, not otherwise remarkable or significant enough to render the State liable for allowing an unreasonably dangerous condition to exist that it had not taken steps to remedy. See Jackson v State of New York, supra; Moore v State of New York, UID # 2004-018-330, Claim No. 103850 (Fitzpatrick, J., September 16, 2004).

Accordingly, upon review of all the evidence including listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds claimant has not established by a preponderance of the evidence that the bathhouse floor was maintained in an unreasonably dangerous fashion, or that if a dangerous condition existed there, that it existed for such a period of time that the defendant either knew or should have known of it, and taken steps to cure it beyond steps already taken.

Claim number 113835 is dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

January 12, 2009
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[2]. All quotations are to audio recordings unless otherwise indicated.
[3]. “The existence of a wet spot on the tile floor such as is described by plaintiff does not in and of itself establish a cause of action even though plaintiff fell thereon. The court is presumed to know what every one else knows that tile floors are more or less slippery and that such a condition in a bath house is necessarily incidental to the use of the bath. No attempt was made to prove how or by whom this wet spot was caused or how long it had existed. It was not enough for plaintiff to show that the floor was wet. The burden was on her to go further and show its presence under circumstances sufficient to charge defendant with responsibility therefor. This she failed to do.”