New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
RODRIGUEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-054-059, Claim No. 126688

Synopsis

Inmate slip and fall, no evidence defendant had notice of a dangerous condition.

Case information

UID: 2018-054-059
Claimant(s): ALVIN RODRIGUEZ
Claimant short name: RODRIGUEZ
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 126688
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: WALTER RIVERA
Claimant's attorney: ALVIN RODRIGUEZ
Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: HON. BARBARA D. UNDERWOOD
Attorney General for the State of New York
By: Joan Matalavage, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: June 6, 2018
City: White Plains
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

The trial of this claim was heard on June 5, 2018 via video-conferencing technology.

Claimant testified on his own behalf and claimant's exhibits 1, 3, 4 and 5 were received in evidence. Defendant presented the testimony of Kevin Gray, Correction Officer Cruz and retired Captain Esposito. Defendant's exhibits A through E were received in evidence.

Claimant testified that on August 22, 2013, during his incarceration at Eastern NY Correctional Facility (Eastern), he slipped and fell in the Armory bathroom and struck his head on the urinal. Claimant sustained an injury above his left eyebrow which required 11 stitches to close the wound. Claimant contends that defendant is liable for the injuries he sustained in the fall because defendant had notice of a recurrent condition of wet floors in the bathroom due to improper drainage and defendant failed to address the condition. Claimant also contends that defendant failed to install rubber mats in the area to ensure the safety of the area. Claimant maintains that defendant improperly placed him in involuntary protective custody (IPC) after inmate Carter was found guilty of assaulting claimant in the bathroom on August 22, 2013. Claimant argued that defendant placed claimant in IPC in an attempt to coverup defendant's negligent maintenance of the bathroom.

At the conclusion of claimant's case, defendant moved to dismiss the claim based upon claimant's failure to meet his burden of proof. Claimant opposed the motion. The Court reserved decision on the motion.

Defendant then presented the testimony of Kevin Gray who testified that he was the plant superintendent at Eastern and had worked there for almost 29 years. Gray testified that, contrary to claimant's testimony, all the drains were working properly in the bathroom at the time of claimant's injury and that there had been no history of issues regarding the drainage in the bathroom. Gray further testified that for six months prior to claimant's injury there had been no work orders regarding any drainage issues in the bathroom (Ex. D).

Correction Officer Cruz testified that on August 22, 2013, he responded to the bathroom where claimant had allegedly fallen and observed claimant's injury. Cruz's assessment of claimant's injury led him to suspect that claimant had sustained the injury from an assault rather than from a fall. Cruz did not investigate the incident. However, Cruz was aware that inmate Carter was issued a misbehavior report for assaulting claimant and was subsequently found guilty. Cruz was also aware that claimant was placed in IPC due to the incident.

Captain Esposito, who has retired from employment at Eastern, testified that he had signed the misbehavior report charging inmate Carter with assaulting claimant on August 22, 2013 in the bathroom (Ex. C, p 10). Carter was subsequently found guilty of assaulting claimant (id. at 4) and the guilty finding was affirmed on appeal (id. at 3).

At the conclusion of trial, defendant renewed its motion to dismiss. Claimant opposed the motion. The Court reserved decision on the motion.

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 [1947] [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 [1984]; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998 [1983]; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241 [1976]). 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 [1985]; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874 [3d Dept 1993]). 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 [1938]; see also Bernstein v City of New York, 69 NY2d 1020 [1987]; Marchetto v State of New York, 179 AD2d 947 [3d Dept 1992]).

In order to prevail on his claim, claimant must show: the existence of a foreseeably dangerous condition; that the State created the condition or had either actual or constructive notice of the condition; that the State failed to remedy the condition within a reasonable time; that such condition was a proximate cause of claimant's injury; and that claimant sustained damages (see Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836 [1986]; Ligon v Waldbaum, Inc., 234 AD2d 347 [2d Dept 1996]; Mercer v City of NewYork, 223 AD2d 688 [2d Dept 1996], affd 88 NY2d 955 [1996]).

Upon consideration of all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that the evidence presented was insufficient to establish that defendant had either actual or constructive notice of a foreseeably dangerous condition attributable to improper drainage and dangerously wet floors in the bathroom and that defendant failed to remedy such condition within a reasonable time (see Pennie v McGillivary, 15 AD3d 639 [2d Dept 2005]). Specifically, there was no credible proof that the bathroom floor was unusually wet for a sufficient length of time prior to claimant's alleged fall to enable defendant to discover and remedy such condition (see Adingra v Henry St. Settlement, 26 AD3d 279 [1st Dept 2006] [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 [2d Dept 2003] [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]). Moreover, even if defendant had a general awareness that the bathroom floor became wet at times, this would not obviate claimant from the burden of establishing that defendant had actual or constructive notice of the particular condition which allegedly caused claimant's fall (see Gonzalez v Jenel Mgt. Corp., 11 AD3d 656, 657 [2d Dept 2004]; McDuffie v Fleet Fin. Group, 269 AD2d 575 [2d Dept 2000]). "[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 [1994] [citations omitted]; see Toma v Rizkalla, 138 AD3d 1103, 1105 [2d Dept 2016] [general awareness of a potential problem with toilet handle was not sufficient to establish constructive notice of particular condition which caused fall]; Curtis v Dayton Beach Park No. 1 Corp., 23 AD3d 511 [2d Dept 2005] [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]). Further, "[a] property owner is not obligated to cover all of its floors with mats or to continuously mop up all moisture" (see Curtis, 23 AD3d at 512; see Keller v Keller, 153 AD3d 1613 [4th Dept 2017]). Wetness on a bathroom floor is an ordinary condition which is readily observable by one making proper use of one's senses and does not, by itself, establish negligence (see Jackson v State of New York, 51 AD3d 1251 [3d Dept 2008]).

Thus, the Court finds that claimant failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that defendant either created or had actual or constructive notice of a foreseeably dangerous condition attributable to improper drainage and dangerously wet floors in the bathroom and that defendant failed to remedy such condition within a reasonable time. Therefore, there is no basis in the record for finding that defendant was negligent. Additionally, the Court finds that claimant failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that his injury was proximately caused by any negligence attributable to defendant in failing to maintain the safety of the floors in the bathroom.

Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss, made at the conclusion of trial, is now GRANTED and the claim is DISMISSED.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 126688.

June 6, 2018

White Plains, New York

WALTER RIVERA

Judge of the Court of Claims