New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
CARROLL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2010-010-027, Claim No. 109631

Synopsis

Inmate claimant slip and fall in shower area.

Case information

UID: 2010-010-027
Claimant(s): TaKARLA CARROLL
Claimant short name: CARROLL
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 109631
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney: ANTHONY M. GIORDANO, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney: HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
Attorney General for the State of New York
By: Jyotsna Gorti, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: June 7, 2010
City: White Plains
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant seeks damages for injuries she allegedly sustained during her incarceration at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (Bedford), when on May 12, 2004, she slipped and fell while exiting the shower. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.

Claimant testified that she was housed in the special housing unit (SHU) at Bedford and that every time it rained or snow melted, water covered the floor outside the shower. Claimant maintained that puddles in that area had been an ongoing problem due to a leak in the roof. An eight-inch to one-foot-high riser on the shower prevented water from entering the corridor. Prior to her accident, claimant never complained about this alleged wetness problem.

According to claimant, on the morning of May 12, 2004, there were already puddles in front of the shower due to the previous night's rainfall. Although at trial claimant testified to "puddles," at her examination before trial, claimant testified that the floor was "a little damp" and that when she dropped her robe, "the robe sucked the little water up that was there."(1) Additionally, when asked at her deposition if she had noticed water in the shower area before her fall, she admitted that she could not "honestly say" that she remembered seeing water in the shower area, but she had seen water in the corridor.

Inmates on SHU are handcuffed in their cells and escorted to the gated shower, one at a time. The handcuffs are removed once they are inside the shower and the inmate is recuffed upon exiting. Claimant, who had undergone surgery on her right knee two months earlier, explained that she fell as she stepped out of the shower and placed weight on her right foot. She further relayed that she slipped and fell on the black cement floor in front of the shower because the area was wet and there were no mats on the floor. At trial, claimant testified that she could not recall where she was looking as she stepped out of the shower. At her deposition, she admitted that she "wasn't actually paying attention" as she stepped down because she was trying to make sure her personal belongings were not misplaced and then "boom," she fell.

After the fall, claimant returned to her cell and subsequently received medical care. Claimant filed a grievance dated May 12, 2004 requesting that "mats [be] provided" and that she be transferred from SHU due to the "ceiling leaking" (Ex. B). Claimant testified that she never received a response to her grievance.

David B. Casterline, the Deputy Superintendent for Administrative Services at Bedford from September 2003 to May 2008, testified that he was responsible for overseeing the plant and operations at Bedford and made weekly rounds through SHU. He was familiar with a work order, dated September 18, 2003, issued to fix a ceiling leak near the shower area. The necessary repair was completed on October 27, 2003 and the problem was completely resolved (Ex. 2). Casterline also remembered another roof leak in December 2003, near the officer's bubble. That leak was attributable to a negligent contractor leaving the cover off a roof vent (Ex. 3). Other than these two instances, Casterline did not recall any water in SHU. He became aware of claimant's fall on the day of her accident or the next day.

Casterline testified that he responded to two letters from claimant regarding her fall. By memorandum dated May 27, 2004, he advised claimant that "an emergency contract has been issued to repair/replace the roof in SHU" (Ex. C). He did not know if the contract was related to claimant's grievance. Casterline explained that the New York State Office of General Services (OGS) would be responsible for the letting and work involved in the contract. Casterline had no knowledge regarding the investigation and notification of the problem to OGS.

Lieutenant Timothy Cool was the watch commander in May 2004, and had been a lieutenant at Bedford from December 2003 to March 2006. As part of his duties, Cool made regular rounds through SHU. He was not aware of any complaints about water on the floor in SHU prior to claimant's accident. He had observed dampness, but not puddles, in front of the shower. In Cool's view, the dampness came from wet feet or flip-flops, and did not require any special attention.

On May 12, 2004, Cool was making morning rounds and became aware of claimant's fall shortly after it occurred. Claimant told Cool repeatedly that she fell exiting the shower and she pointed to the area just outside the shower gate. Cool looked at the location and saw only dampness. He did not observe any puddles. Cool did not ask claimant how she fell and he did not investigate the incident. He concluded that an accident report was not generated because claimant's injuries were not substantial.

Several days after the incident, claimant advised Cool that she intended to file a lawsuit and would call Cool as a witness. He was not aware of a leak in the ceiling in SHU in May 2004.

Analysis

It is well established that "[t]he State - just as any other party *** is responsible, in the operation and management of its schools, hospitals and other institutions, only for hazards reasonably to be foreseen, only for risks reasonably to be perceived" (Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342, 346 [citations omitted]) and with respect to the safety of persons on its property, the duty of the State is one of reasonable care under the circumstances (see Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 513; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241). The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of its premises and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the happening of an accident (see Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850, 851; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874). Indeed:

"[w]here the facts proven show that there are several possible causes of an injury, for one or more of which the defendant was not responsible, and it is just as reasonable and probable that the injury was the result of one cause as the other, plaintiff cannot have a recovery, since he has failed to prove that the negligence of the defendant caused the injury."

(Ingersoll v Liberty Bank of Buffalo, 278 NY 1, 7; see also Bernstein v City of New York, 69 NY2d 1020; Marchetto v State of New York, 179 AD2d 947).

Upon consideration of all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that there is a lack of credible evidence to establish claimant's burden of proof. Notably, claimant's own self-serving testimony was inconsistent on critical facts and she failed to present sufficient evidence establishing that defendant either created or had notice of a dangerously wet floor in the shower area and failed to address it in a timely manner (see Adingra v Henry St. Settlement, 26 AD3d 279 [case dismissed where there was no evidence that defendant created or had either actual or constructive notice of a wet floor where fall occurred]; Dawkins v Long Is. R. R., 302 AD2d 349 [in the absence of proof as to how long the water was on the floor, there is no evidence which would permit an inference that defendant had constructive notice of the condition]). Even if defendant had a general awareness that the floor became wet during rainy or snowy weather, this would not obviate claimant from the burden of establishing that defendant had actual or constructive notice of the particular condition which caused claimant's fall (see Curtis v Dayton Beach Park No. 1 Corp., 23 AD3d 511 [proof that defendant was aware that floor became wet during rainy weather is not sufficient to establish constructive notice of particular inclement condition that caused fall]). "Because a 'general awareness' that a dangerous condition may be present is legally insufficient to constitute notice of the particular condition that caused plaintiff's fall *** liability could be predicated only on failure of defendants to remedy the danger presented by the [wetness] after actual or constructive notice of the condition" (Piacquadio v Recine Realty Corp., 84 NY2d 967, 969 [citations omitted]).

Further, "[a] property owner is not obligated to cover all of its floors with mats or to continuously mop up all moisture" (see Curtis v Dayton Beach Park No. 1 Corp., supra at 512). Finally, claimant conceded at her deposition that she was not paying attention as she stepped out of the shower; rather she was focused upon the location of her personal belongings. The Court also finds that, based upon claimant's own testimony at her deposition, the alleged condition which claimant attributes to her fall was not unusual for a shower area; rather it was an ordinary condition which was readily observable by claimant, had she been paying attention. Accordingly, the Court finds that claimant's own inattentiveness was the proximate cause of her fall and that claimant failed to meet her burden of establishing that defendant was negligent and that such negligence was a proximate cause of her injury.

Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now GRANTED.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 109631.

June 7, 2010

White Plains, New York

Terry Jane Ruderman

Judge of the Court of Claims


1. All quotations are to the trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.