New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
INFANTE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2010-009-104, Claim No. 112753

Synopsis

Claimant's claim seeking damages for personal injuries suffered in an industrial accident at Auburn Correctional Facility was dismissed, based upon the Court's finding that claimant had not established that the State failed to properly train, instruct or supervise him.

Case information

UID: 2010-009-104
Claimant(s): CAMILO INFANTE
Claimant short name: INFANTE
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 112753
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Claimant's attorney: DOMINIC PELLEGRINO, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney: HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
Attorney General
BY: Heather R. Rubinstein, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney General
Of Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: October 7, 2010
City: Syracuse
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

In this claim, claimant seeks to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by him in an industrial accident which occurred on April 22, 2005 at Auburn Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Auburn"), where he was then incarcerated.

Claimant alleges that the State is liable for failing to provide him with a safe work environment, specifically by failing to provide him with a reasonably safe machine with which to perform his work duties, as well as failing to provide him with proper and adequate instructions for the safe operation of that power tool.

The trial of this claim was bifurcated, and this decision addresses solely the issue of liability.

At the trial, claimant testified on his behalf, while the State called one witness, Leo Major, claimant's Industrial Training Supervisor, at Auburn at the time of this accident. In addition to these witnesses, transcripts of the deposition testimony of Mr. Major, Harry S. Howard (a civilian employee at Auburn who instructed inmates in a general Pre-Industrial Training Course), and Rafael Serrano (an inmate coworker of claimant) were received into evidence (see Exhibits 1, 22, and 24, respectively).

On the day of the accident, claimant was at his assigned work area in the Cab-1 Shop working at the Table Banding area, preparing to operate an electric T-Mold router. Evidence at trial (Exhibit C) established that claimant had been admitted into the Auburn woodworking program, and had been assigned to the Cab-1 Shop on March 21, 2005.

As testified to by claimant, the facts and circumstances of the accident are relatively simple and straightforward. On the afternoon of April 22, 2005, following his lunch break, claimant removed tools, including the T-Mold router, from a tool cart and placed them on the set-up table. He testified that he plugged an extension cord into the wall socket, and then plugged the electrical cord from the router into the extension cord. When he did so, the router started up. It started to spin around and then fell on the table, and claimant suffered lacerations to the third, fourth, and fifth fingers of his left hand when struck by the router as he instinctively raised his hand in front of him for protection.

Inmate Rafael Serrano essentially corroborated claimant's testimony. Inmate Serrano confirmed that the router immediately started when claimant plugged the router cord into the extension cord, and that claimant suffered cuts to his left hand as he jumped back from the router. Inmate Serrano testified that he then unplugged the router, and took claimant to the front desk to report his injuries.

Claimant testified that when he started the work program, he did not receive any training in the use of power tools, and in particular the router. He testified that he was simply told to watch another inmate doing his work and that he could learn from observing. He testified that after he watched another inmate perform his job for a couple of days, he then started to work on his own, and worked for about one month in this area prior to the accident.

He further testified that prior to entering the prison system, he could not speak English, and that he had not done any work whatsoever with power tools. Claimant acknowledged that he had signed certain documents regarding training, but that he could not read or understand them. He testified that he signed these documents simply because he wanted to obtain a position in "industry" within the prison system. He acknowledged that prior to the accident, he had been shown a video which depicted the dangers associated with working with power tools.

Based on this testimony, it is claimant's position that the State was negligent due to its failure to provide him with a reasonably safe machine, and further that the State failed to provide him with adequate training in the use of that machine.

Leo Major, an Industrial Training Supervisor at Auburn at the time of the accident, testified on behalf of the State. Mr. Major testified that he trained claimant in the proper use of the router, and supervised his operation of the router four or five times before he allowed claimant to proceed on his own.

Mr. Major testified that he provided claimant with specific instructions as to the proper and safe operation of the T-Mold router, including instructions as to how to place the router on the work table with its blade up, how to plug the router in (by first plugging the router cord into the extension cord prior to plugging the extension cord into the outlet), and how to turn the router on and off using the toggle switch on the machine. Mr. Major further testified that during the month prior to this accident, he periodically checked on claimant's progress and his operation of the router, and that during these periodic checks, claimant had always performed his duties in accordance with the safety instructions that he had previously provided.

As to the day of the accident, Mr. Major testified that claimant was the inmate who had picked up the tool cart the morning of April 22, 2005. He further testified that claimant had returned the tool cart and tools to the tool room prior to the lunch break, and that he also picked them up following the lunch break and immediately prior to the accident.

DISCUSSION

It is well-settled that the State, through its correctional facilities, has a duty to exercise reasonable care in providing for the safety of inmates participating in work programs, and to provide them with reasonably safe equipment (Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910; Callahan v State of New York, 19 AD2d 437, affd 14 NY2d 665; Muhammad v State of New York, 15 AD3d 807). On the other hand, an inmate in such a work program has a duty to proceed with ordinary care in the performance of his work duties, although consideration must be given to the unique circumstances an inmate faces in a prison setting (Martinez v State of New York, 225 AD2d 877).

In this particular matter, there have been no allegations, nor any proof, indicating that the router in question was defective in any manner. Rather, the testimony and evidence at trial clearly establishes, to the satisfaction of this Court, that the router started up immediately when electric current was supplied not as the result of any defect, but rather due to the fact that the on/off toggle switch was in the "on" position.

It is claimant's position that having the switch in the "on" position created a defect in the router, and that it was facility personnel who were responsible for examining the router to make sure that the switch was in the proper, or "off" position, when claimant began to use it in the afternoon work session.

While the Court agrees that the switch had to be in the "on" position when claimant supplied electric current, claimant has not established that it was in this improper position when claimant picked up the tools following his lunch break. It is equally plausible that claimant, or another inmate, may have inadvertently moved the toggle switch from the "off" position to the "on" position during set-up of the machine following lunch break.

Additionally, claimant himself failed to notice that the switch was in the "on" position and more importantly, by his own testimony claimant acknowledged that he did not follow proper procedures when he supplied electric current to the machine. Rather than first plugging the cord from the router into the extension cord and then plugging the extension cord into the electric socket pursuant to safety instructions, claimant instead first plugged the extension cord into the outlet, and then plugged the cord from the router into the "live" extension cord. As a result, when the machine immediately started, claimant unnecessarily was much closer to the machine than he should have been.

In sum, this Court finds that claimant has failed to establish any defect in the equipment provided to him, specifically the T-Mold router, and that this accident can be solely attributed to claimant's failure to exercise ordinary care in pursuance of his work duties, and specifically in the set-up of the router.

As stated at the outset, however, claimant also contends that facility personnel failed to provide him with adequate instructions and training for the safe operation of the machine. There is no question that the State has an affirmative duty to provide inmates in its correctional facilities with adequate instruction on how to perform their work duties (Kandrach v State of New York, supra; Palmisano v State of New York, 47 AD2d 692).

In this particular matter, claimant testified that he did not receive any such training, and that he was merely told to observe another inmate performing his work, and that he could learn through such observation. Claimant's testimony, however, is directly contradicted by the testimony of Mr. Major, who testified that he provided specific safety instructions on the proper use of the router in question.

Although claimant testified that he had limited use of the English language, he did acknowledge that by 2005, he could understand English when it was spoken to him, even though he might have difficulty in responding in English. This testimony is consistent with the testimony of Mr. Major, who testified that he never had any indication that claimant did not understand the instructions provided to him and further, that during these instructions claimant appeared to understand and nod his head in acknowledgment. Significantly, once claimant had received his safety instructions, and after training on his first day, claimant safely performed his tasks with the router without any incident or difficulties for approximately one month prior to this accident. Finally, the deposition testimony of Harry Howard (Exhibit 22) established that claimant was also provided with general safety instructions prior to being assigned to his specific work duties in Cab-1. Accordingly, the Court finds and determines that claimant has failed to establish that the State failed to properly train, instruct, or supervise him in the performance of his assigned work duties. Although the Court remains sympathetic to the injuries suffered by claimant in this accident, it nevertheless finds that claimant has failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, any negligence on the part of the State. Therefore this claim must be, and hereby is, dismissed.

Any motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby denied.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

October 7, 2010

Syracuse, New York

NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.

Judge of the Court of Claims