Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, filed this claim against defendant State
of New York (defendant) for an injury to his finger received while working in
the kitchen at Elmira Correctional Facility (Elmira). Trial of the matter was
held at Elmira on November 5, 2008.
At trial, claimant stated that he was cleaning a drain in the facility’s
kitchen on January 9, 2005. In the course of removing one of the drain covers,
it slid and smashed the last joint of the middle finger on his left
He received four sutures.
Claimant stated that the drain covers were very large and heavy. He said they
were grills or grates approximately 2½ feet in length, made of iron, and
set in a row into the floor. In order to clean the drains, he had to slide each
one down to an opening that would allow him to lift it out. He had to remove
between 20 and 30 drain covers every time he cleaned the drains. He said that
he was not given a hook or gloves with which to remove the covers. Claimant
said he had been working in the kitchen for approximately five years, but these
drain covers were relatively new.
On cross-examination, claimant acknowledged he had been cleaning the drains for
several months, two to three times per week. However, he contended that
defendant should have trained him to remove the drain covers properly or
provided a safe working environment. He testified that a facility maintenance
worker (not an inmate) had injured himself in the same manner, prior to
Claimant stated that the injury was very painful, and that the end of the
finger essentially burst when the cover slid and caught it. The nail fell off
shortly after the injury. At the time of the trial, approximately four years
after the accident, a scar was still visible and the end of the finger was
somewhat flattened, although the nail had grown back. He said that he was given
two or three weeks of bed rest after the injury pursuant to medical orders, and
took ibuprofen for the pain.
Claimant also said that he had received instructions in the infirmary that the
sutures should be removed on January 17, 2005. Claimant testified that he was
not called to remove the stitches at that time, and that he eventually went to
the clinic to have them removed because they were falling
Correction Officer J. Simone testified on claimant’s behalf. Simone saw
claimant’s finger after the incident. He stated that the inmates were
given latex gloves to use when cleaning the drains. He acknowledged that a
had injured himself in
the exact same way prior to claimant’s accident. He thought that injury
occurred when the civilian was showing an inmate how to move the grates down to
Simone said that the drain covers were removed by “slid[ing them] down to
an area where there’s an opening and they lift them out and set them on
the side.” Notably, Simone testified that the manner of removing the
drain covers “was not the best way to do it.” He said the covers
were very heavy and would stick when someone was trying to slide them. No
equipment (such as a metal hook or handle) was given to the inmates to help them
slide the covers down to the opening. He stated that the covers were replaced
six months to a year after claimant’s injury.
Defendant owes inmates engaged in work programs a duty to provide reasonably
safe machinery and equipment, as well as adequate training and supervision for
the work and safe operation of that equipment (Manganaro v State of New
York, 24 AD3d 1003, 1004 ; Muhammad v State of New York, 15
AD3d 807, 808 ; Martinez v State of New York, 225 AD2d 877, 878
; Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910, 913  ). At the
same time, the State is not an insurer of the safety of its inmates and
negligence cannot be inferred solely from the occurrence of an accident (see
Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850, 851 ; Condon v State of
New York, 193 AD2d 874 ; Perez v State of New York, Ct Cl, Aug.
26, 2005, Ruderman, J., Claim No. 104161-A [2005-010-048]). An inmate must use
reasonable care, and when he fails to do so, he must take some responsibility
for his own negligence (Martinez v State of New York, supra;
Carter v State of New York, 194 AD2d 967 ; Hicks v State of New
York, 124 AD2d 949 ).
It is apparent from the testimony of both claimant and Officer Simone that the
removal of the grates was an inherently dangerous task, and that the inmates
cleaning the drains were not given the proper equipment to perform that job
safely. Moreover, defendant must be deemed to have been aware of the dangerous
nature of the task, due to the accident of the maintenance worker prior to
claimant’s injury, which apparently occurred in precisely the same manner
as claimant’s injury. However, claimant had been performing this
procedure for two to three times a week, removing 20 to 30 grates each time, for
several months. He was well aware that the grates would stick, and had a
responsibility to be careful in moving them.
Liability for claimant’s injury itself is hereby apportioned to the
defendant in the amount of 60% and to the claimant in the amount of 40%. With
regard to claimant’s cause of action for negligent medical treatment,
although claimant’s stitches were obviously not removed on the date
originally scheduled, no evidence was submitted which would show whether
defendant was supposed to bring claimant to the infirmary on that date, or
whether claimant was supposed to request sick call. Moreover, there was no
medical evidence that claimant suffered any further injury because of the
failure to remove the sutures in a timely manner. Claimant has not met his
burden of proof on this issue, and thus defendant cannot be held liable for any
delay in the removal of the stitches.
While the injury was no doubt painful for some period of time, as claimant
testified, there was no residual impact on the usage of the finger, and it
should be noted that it was claimant’s non-dominant hand. Based upon
these factors and claimant’s testimony, the Court assesses total damages
at $1,500, with claimant receiving 60% thereof, or $900.
To the extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it is recoverable pursuant
to Court of Claims Act § 11-a (2).
Let judgment be entered accordingly.