New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GILES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-042-504, Claim No. 110952, Motion No. M-75824


Synopsis


This is a motion brought by the claimant for summary judgment, pursuant to CPLR Section 3212, on the issue of liability in this negligence personal injury action. Claimant asserts that the state had ample notice of the defective condition of the machine in question. Defendant opposes the motion for summary judgment arguing that it did not create the dangerous condition and did not have actual or constructive notice of the precise condition of the equipment that allegedly caused claimant’s injuries. Defendant claims there are issues of fact as to claimant’s own comparative negligence. The court finds that there are issues of fact which preclude summary judgment. Claimant’s motion is denied.

Case Information

UID:
2009-042-504
Claimant(s):
LAWRENCE GILES
Claimant short name:
GILES
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
110952
Motion number(s):
M-75824
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NORMAN I. SIEGEL
Claimant’s attorney:
DINKES & SCHWITZERBy: ANDREA M. ARRIGO, ESQ.
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: JOEL L. MARMELSTEIN, ESQ. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
April 1, 2009
City:
Utica
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

The court has considered the following papers on claimant’s motion for summary judgment:
  1. Notice of Motion, filed November 13, 2008
  2. Affirmation of Andrea M. Arrigo, Esq., dated November 11, 2008
  3. Photocopy of affidavit of Lawrence Giles, sworn to October 3, 2006
  4. Exhibits A - F, annexed to the moving papers
  5. Opposition affirmation of Joel L. Marmelstein, Esq., dated December 10, 2008
  6. Opposition affidavit of Harold Eastwood, sworn to December 10, 2008
  7. Exhibits 1 - 3, annexed to the opposition papers
  8. Reply affirmation of Andrea M. Arrigo, Esq., dated December 11, 2008
_____________________________________


Claimant has moved for summary judgment, pursuant to CPLR Section 3212, on the issue of liability in this negligence personal injury action. Claimant allegedly sustained injuries on May 4, 2005 while he was incarcerated at the Camp Georgetown Correctional Facility. It is claimant’s contention that while working in the State Shop Laundry Area of Camp Georgetown, he was ordered to use a malfunctioning “washer machine” when he was electrocuted by the machine, thus sustaining serious injuries. Claimant asserts that the state had ample notice of the defective machine, as it had begun malfunctioning approximately five months prior to the accident. According to the moving papers, claimant’s supervisor was aware that in order to start the machine it was necessary to open a top lid of this front-loading machine, reach into the machine and push a lever or switch, rather than simply use the external switch.

Claimant argues further that defendant was aware of this defect - i.e. the need to manually reach into the top of the machine and manually push a switch - from a prior injury to claimant. On April 7, 2005, approximately one month before the incident in issue, claimant alleges that when he was trying to turn the inside switch, the top of the lid closed on his wrist, causing injury and that he reported this incident to defendant. Additionally claimant stated that prior to the incident, his supervisor instructed claimant to remove clothes from the machine, despite the supervisor’s awareness of the defect and that operating the manual switch would be necessary.

Claimant points out that the deposition testimony of defendant’s employee Henderson, claimant’s supervisor, indicated that Henderson was aware of electrical problems with the machine and had previously reported same to the maintenance department. Henderson stated that the top lid had previously been maintained in a locked position, and since it was unlocked, he assumed that maintenance had left it in an unlocked position in order that inmates could access the top, though he felt that this was a safety hazard.

Defendant opposes the motion for summary judgment, arguing that it did not create the dangerous condition, it did not have actual or constructive notice of the precise condition that is alleged to be the proximate cause of claimant’s injuries. Further, defendant argues that summary judgment should be denied as there are issues of fact as to claimant’s own comparative negligence. In addition to claimant’s use of the manual switch when claimant himself was already aware of the danger of reaching into the top of the machine, defendant provides the affidavit of Harold Eastwood, an employee of the Department of Correctional Services at Camp Georgetown at the time of the incident. Eastwood filed a Misbehavior Report against claimant for claimant’s behavior on the date of the incident. Specifically, Eastwood said that the report he filed against claimant stated the following:

[a]t approximately 9:45 AM I entered the laundry area and saw inmate Giles 04R3554 lift the top of washer number 3 [the washer in issue] and reach into the wiring in an attempt to get it started. I gave him a direct order not to reach into the washer, he complied at that time. An investigation into the emergency response to the storehouse at 10:17 AM revealed that inmate Giles reached back into the washing machine again and received a shock that resulted in him being transported to outside hospital.


The court turns first to defendant’s argument that fact issues as to claimant’s own negligence preclude summary judgment.

While claimant, as an inmate assigned to work in the laundry, is not an ordinary laborer, nevertheless, he bears responsibility for his own behavior. As one court noted:

[d]efendant’s correctional authorities owe a duty to provide inmates engaged in work programs with reasonably safe equipment and sufficient warnings and instructions for safe operation of the equipment (see Muhammad v State of New York, 15 AD3d 807, 808 [2005]; Martinez v State of New York, 225 AD2d 877, 878-879 [1996]). Inmates are still required to exercise ordinary care when engaging in work programs (see Muhammad v State of New York, supra at 808).


(Manganaro v State of New York, 24 AD3d 1003, 1004 [3d Dept 2005]).


“[W]here an inmate fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course of conduct, he or she is required to take some responsibility for his or her own negligence” (Martinez v State of New York, 225 AD2d 877, 878, citing with favor Carter v State of New York, 194 AD2d 967, 968; Hicks v State of New York, 124 AD2d 949, 950; Telfair v State of New York, 87 AD2d 610). Here, claimant argues that the dangerous condition of the washer should have been obvious to the defendant. Such apparent danger should also have been obvious to claimant, particularly since claimant claims to have previously been injured by this same machine, while using the manual switch. Furthermore, crediting the Eastwood affidavit, claimant was specifically warned on the date of the incident not to reach into the top of the washer, and did so in violation of a direct order. Where there is evidence, as here, of comparative fault, summary judgment is inappropriate (Rector v State of New York, UID No. 2004-015-377, Claim No. 106302, Motion Nos. M-67624, CM-67707, January 20, 2004, Collins, J.; Dasher v Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., 305 AD2d 1019 [4th Dept 2003]; Thoma v Ronai, 189 AD2d 635, 636 [1st Dept 1993]).

Inasmuch as this determination is dispositive of claimant’s motion, the court need not reach other issues raised by the parties.

Claimant’s motion for summary judgment is denied.



April 1, 2009
Utica, New York

HON. NORMAN I. SIEGEL
Judge of the Court of Claims