New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
SANTANA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2010-015-504, Claim No. 110924

Synopsis

Claimant failed to present expert proof that injuries related to slip-and-fall accident. Theories of liability also failed because claimant was unable to establish that same accident would not have occurred had claimant been housed in the medical dorm in closer proximity to mess hall and notice of slippery condition of walkway was not established.

Case information

UID: 2010-015-504
Claimant(s): FRANK SANTANA
Claimant short name: SANTANA
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 110924
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney: Frank Santana, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Stephen J. Maher, Esquire
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: February 26, 2010
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

This pro se inmate claim proceeded to trial on December 2, 2009. While the claim appears to state a cause of action for injuries sustained while playing basketball on December 29, 2004 and shortly thereafter in a slip-and-fall accident on January 6, 2005, claimant testified at trial that he is making no claim for the basketball related injuries referenced in the claim.

The claimant testified at trial that he injured his left knee while participating in a basketball game at the Washington Correctional Facility gymnasium on December 29, 2004. He was taken to the facility infirmary and provided a knee brace and crutches. The claimant was not admitted to the medical unit but was instructed to return to his dormitory, which he estimated was located approximately one-quarter mile from the mess hall. On January 6, 2005 the claimant was walking from his dormitory to the mess hall when he alleges he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk. Mr. Santana was taken to the Washington Correctional Facility infirmary by stretcher and later transferred to the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility infirmary and Albany Medical Center for further treatment.

While the claimant does not assert a claim regarding his original injury on December 29, 2004, he alleges the State of New York was negligent in not admitting him to the facility's medical dormitory, which he described as "right across from the messhall ". In fact, the claimant submitted a grievance requesting assignment to the medical dorm on December 30, 2004 (Exhibit 11). The claimant testified that all inmates are required to take their meals in the mess hall at Washington Correctional Facility and that, given his prior knee injury, which necessitated the use of crutches, he should have been assigned to the medical dormitory rather than his normal housing assignment which was more distant from the mess hall. Mr. Santana also alleged that the State was negligent in allowing the accumulation of ice on the sidewalk which caused his fall on January 6, 2005.

Exhibits 1 through 13 were received in evidence. Exhibit 3 is a "Final Report" relating the results of an MRI examination of the claimant at Albany Medical Center on January 3, 2005. The report relates the following findings:

"IMPRESSION: Large knee joint effusion with small fat fluid level.

Bucket handle tear of the medial meniscus with detached fragment.

Probable tear of the posterior horn of the lateral meniscus which is nondisplaced. Complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament.

Medial collateral ligament tear.

Central hyaline cartilage tear involving the medial femoral condyle.

Trabecular infractions."

Exhibit 2 is a preliminary X-ray report dated January 7, 2005, which indicates a clinical history of "back and lumbosacral spine pain. Fell 01/06/05 with severe pain across the lower back without radiation". Under the heading "IMPRESSION" the report states that there is "[n]o evidence for recent fracture or subluxation. Very mild loss in height of the disc space between L5-S1."

The claimant testified on cross-examination that following the original injury to his left knee on December 29, 2004 he was provided crutches and a knee immobilizer, and was scheduled for a MRI, which was ultimately performed on January 3, 2005. He testified at trial that he verbally requested placement in the facility medical dormitory following the injury to his left knee because the F2 dormitory where he was housed is approximately one-quarter mile from the mess hall while the medical dormitory is "right across" from the mess hall. He testified that it was snowing at the time he slipped and fell on the allegedly icy sidewalk on January 6, 2005.

The defendant called Zoe Kingsley as a witness. Ms. Kingsley testified that she is currently employed as a registered nurse at Great Meadow Correctional Facility and that she performed the same duties at Washington Correctional Facility during 2004 - 2005. The witness testified that on January 6, 2005 she responded to the site of claimant's accident and assisted in placing the claimant on a stretcher and transporting him to the facility infirmary. She described the weather conditions that day as snowy and indicated there was "some snow on the sidewalk". At the scene the claimant complained of back and left knee pain. The claimant was wearing a knee immobilizer and had crutches. Nurse Kingsley prepared the inmate injury report received in evidence as Exhibit 1.

The witness testified that the F2 dorm in which the claimant was housed on January 6, 2005 is approximately 300 feet from the facility mess hall. The medical dormitory is approximately 150 -200 feet from the mess hall. Inmates must exit both buildings and walk outside to reach the mess hall. Nurse Kingsley testified that the medical dormitory is generally reserved for older inmates suffering from chronic ailments. Medical doctors determine which inmates are assigned to the medical dormitory which, according to the witness, is generally full. She also testified that all inmates at Washington Correctional Facility are required to attend meals at the mess hall, including those assigned to the medical dormitory, and that no inmates are fed in their cells at the facility. She stated that a primary consideration in assigning inmates to the medical dormitory is the dormitory's proximity to the mess hall.

Nurse Kingsley testified on cross-examination that she completed the Inmate Injury Report dated January 6, 2005, received in evidence as a part of Exhibit A. The Report indicates in the appropriate space that the claimant was "walking downhill with crutches" at the time of his injury, that there was "snow on walkway" and that the claimant stated he had "slipped on walkway". The Inmate Injury Report also indicates that the claimant complained of low back and left knee pain. The witness also confirmed that she completed the top two entries on the claimant's ambulatory health record dated January 6, 2005 received as Exhibit 5. The bottom portion completed by her former supervisor, Nurse Administrator Dana Griffith, states:

"Dr. Trachtman returned call. Notified of above injury agrees needs infirmary admission . . . dangerous walking on walkways with crutches".

Nurse Kingsley went on to testify, as she had on direct, that the medical dormitory at Washington Correctional Facility primarily houses inmates suffering from chronic injuries or ailments and that physicians determine which inmates should be housed in the medical dormitory. Nurse Kingsley reviewed the MRI report received as Exhibit 3 and testified that data contained on the top of the Exhibit appears to indicate that the report was received at Washington Correctional Facility on the morning of Wednesday, January 5, 2005.

Prior to the conclusion of trial the claimant testified that he suffered spine pain following his slip-and-fall on January 6, 2005 and that he was treated for back injuries during the four-month period he was housed at the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility infirmary, including ice packs and pain medication (Motrin).

The law is settled that although the State is not an insurer against any injury which might occur on its property, it is "under a duty to take every reasonable precaution to protect those who are in its institutions" (Bowers v State of New York, 241 AD2d 760, 760 [1997]; see also Heliodore v State of New York, 305 AD2d 708 [2003]; Melendez v State of New York, 283 AD2d 729 [2001]; appeal dismissed 97 NY2d 649 [2001]; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874 [1993]. Here, claimant seeks to predicate liability on two bases: first, that the defendant was negligent in failing to admit him to the medical dormitory, which was in close proximity to the mess hall and, second, that the defendant was negligent in allowing the accumulation of snow and ice on the sidewalk.

Claimant's first theory of liability, the defendant's failure to admit him to the medical dormitory, fails for several reasons. First, the evidence adduced at trial is insufficient to permit the conclusion that the same type of slip-and-fall accident would not have occurred had claimant been required to traverse only the shorter distance between the medical dormitory and mess hall. Even assuming the breach of a duty to provide claimant with a safe means of getting to the mess hall, however, claimant's failure to present expert testimony relating any of his injuries to the slip-and-fall accident on the sidewalk is fatal to his case. Whether the failure to provide the claimant a safe means of getting to the mess hall sounds in negligence or medical malpractice, claimant must establish by competent expert evidence that the negligence or deviation from accepted standards of care was the proximate cause of his injuries (Wood v State of New York, 45 AD3d 1198 [2007]; Trottie v State of New York, 39 AD3d 1094 [2007]; Lowe v State of New York, 35 AD3d 1281 [2006]; Tatta v State of New York, 19 AD3d 817 [2005]). "[W]here medical issues are not within the ordinary experience and knowledge of lay persons, expert medical opinion is . . . required" (Wood v State of New York, 45 AD3d at 1198 [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]). Here, the record evidence establishes that claimant's knee injuries occurred prior to this accident and no expert opinion evidence was adduced to establish any further knee injuries related to the slip-and-fall on the walkway. The MRI examination of the claimant's left knee performed January 3, 2005, prior to the subject accident, revealed multiple injuries to the claimant's left knee for which surgery was required. No medical evidence establishes that the slip-and-fall accident of January 6, 2005 contributed or exacerbated these injuries. With respect to the alleged back injury, again, no medical evidence establishes a causal connection to the slip-and-fall accident. In addition, X-ray examination of the claimant's lumbar spine (Exhibit 2) states "[N]o evidence for recent fracture or subluxation". While this report does state "[v]ery mild loss of height of the disc space between L5-S1", absent expert testimony the Court is unable to determine the significance of this finding or that it was caused by the claimant's January 6, 2005 accident.

Lastly, to the extent the instant claim rests on the contention that the defendant was negligent in allowing the accumulation of snow and ice on the sidewalk, claimant was required to prove " ' that the defendant . . . had either created a dangerous condition or . . . had actual or constructive notice of the condition' " (Heliodore v State of New York, 305 AD2d at 709 [citation omitted]; see also Mercer v City of New York, 88 NY2d 955 [1996]; Seaman v State of New York, 45 AD3d 1126 [2007]; Kappes v Cohoes Bowling Arena, 2 AD3d 1034 [2003]). This was not done and defendant may not be held liable for the failure to properly maintain the walkway in the absence of such evidence.

Accordingly, claimant failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that defendant's negligence was a proximate cause of his injuries. As a result, the claim is dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

February 26, 2010

Saratoga Springs, New York

FRANCIS T. COLLINS

Judge of the Court of Claims