New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-029-028, Claim No. 125747

Synopsis

The pro se claimant inmate was injured using a slicing machine for the first time in the kitchen at Coxsackie Correctional Facility. After a video trial on January 16, 2018, the State was found liable for negligence based on lack of supervision. The court awarded claimant $300 in damages for past pain and suffering.

Case information

UID: 2018-029-028
Claimant(s): MICHAEL C. WILLIAMS
Claimant short name: WILLIAMS
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 125747
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Claimant's attorney: MICHAEL C. WILLIAMS, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney: ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, ATTORNEY GENERAL
By: Douglas R. Kemp, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: March 20, 2018
City: White Plains
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

This pro se claim seeks damages for injuries allegedly resulting from defendant's negligence in failing to train claimant adequately in the use of a slicing machine in the kitchen at Coxsackie Correctional Facility ("Coxsackie"). A trial was held by video on January 16, 2018, with claimant appearing pro se and Assistant Attorney General Douglas Kemp appearing on defendant's behalf at Coxsackie, and the court presiding from the courthouse in White Plains, New York.

Claimant testified on his own behalf and defendant called Robert Boyles, Jr. and Lisa Mazza. The following claimant's exhibits were admitted at trial: an inmate injury report (Exh. 1); ambulatory health record progress notes for several dates (Exh. 2); and a logbook page for November 17, 2014 (Exh. 3). The following defendant's exhibits were admitted at trial: certified copies of ambulatory health record progress notes (Exh. A).

Claimant testified that on November 17, 2014, he was assigned to work in the kitchen using the slicer. He kept saying that he did not know how to use the machine, but no one trained him to operate it. After he watched someone else cut himself using the slicer, he was ordered to go ahead and operate it, after which he cut his finger. On cross-examination, claimant testified that he had been assigned to the kitchen in March 2014; the first time he touched the slicer was on November 17; while he was slicing vegetables, he cut his 4th digit; the medical unit wrapped it up; he was cleared to go back to work on December 5, 2014, as a baker not a cook.

Exhibit 3, a log page for November 17, 2014, established that during the morning "chow run" an inmate "sliced the top of his thumb on meat slicer" in the kitchen at 7:25 a.m., and claimant "sliced finger on the side with meat slicer" at 8:08 a.m. Exhibit 1, an inmate injury report, notes the time of the injury as 7:55 a.m., and that claimant's 4th digit was cut along the nail line. Exhibit 2, ambulatory health record progress notes, confirm that claimant cut the 4th digit of his left hand on the kitchen slicer. Claimant rested his case.

Defendant did not dispute that claimant cut his finger. For the defense, Robert Boyle, Jr. ("Boyle") testified that at the time of the accident he was the head cook and had worked at Coxsackie for three years. He showed claimant how to use the slicer that day, how to hold it and where to put his hand while pushing the vegetables back and forth. He described the slicer as being equipped with a guard that the operator held, and referred to it as "not unsafe," adding that it was still in use at Coxsackie. On cross-examination, Boyle testified that he showed claimant how to use the slicer after the other inmate cut himself; and he went into the office after showing claimant how to use the machine.

The parties stipulated that claimant's last treatment for his cut finger was on December 5, 2014. Lisa Mazza testified that she was an administrative nurse at Coxsackie at the time of the incident. She recognized defendant's exhibit A as claimant's ambulatory health record progress notes. The notes showed claimant's medical complaints and treatment on various days from November 17, 2014, the date of the accident, through January 2, 2017. The notes established that claimant's finger cut was cleaned and dressed, and as of December 5, 2014, claimant's wound was healed and he was cleared to "return to program."

Negligence requires a reasonably foreseeable danger of injury to another, conduct that is unreasonable in proportion to that danger and proof of actual injury (Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 252 [2002]). The State is not an insurer of inmate safety (id.). "[W]hen the State, through its correctional authorities, directs a prison inmate to participate in a work program during incarceration, it owes the inmate a duty to provide reasonably safe machinery and equipment with which to work and adequate warnings and instructions for the safe operation of such machinery and equipment" (Martinez v State of New York, 225 AD2d 877, 878 [3d Dept 1996], quoting Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910, 913 [3d Dept 1992]).

In the instant matter, the undisputed facts support a finding of liability on the part of the State. While there was nothing inherently wrong with Mr. Boyle assigning claimant to operate the slicer, it was negligent for him to simply demonstrate the use and then immediately leave the area without observing claimant for a long enough period of time to be certain that he was using it properly. This is particularly true where the reason for claimant's assignment to the slicer was that his predecessor on the slicer had cut himself in a similar manner immediately prior to claimant's incident. This lack of supervision constitutes negligence.

In reviewing claimant's medical records, it appears that his injury, while real, was de minimis. It was treated in the infirmary and records show that it was fully resolved within approximately three weeks. The court finds it proper to award claimant $300 for past pain and suffering. To the extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act section 11-a(2).

The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

March 20, 2018

White Plains, New York

STEPHEN J. MIGNANO

Judge of the Court of Claims