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Prison inmate’s suit reinstated

Cracked sidewalk was not ‘physically insignificant’

By: Bennett Loudon//June 13, 2018

Prison inmate’s suit reinstated

Cracked sidewalk was not ‘physically insignificant’

By: Bennett Loudon//June 13, 2018//

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An appellate court has reversed a New York State Court of Claims ruling that dismissed a suit filed by a state prison inmate who is claiming he was injured after falling on a sidewalk at the prison where he was held.

In March 2017, Judge Renee Forgensi Minarik granted the defense motion for summary judgment and dismissed the claim filed by inmate Marlon Bennett.

“We agree with claimant that the court erred in granting the motion upon concluding that the alleged defect was trivial as a matter of law,” the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Fourth Department, wrote in the decision released Friday.

To be granted a summary judgment, the state must show that the defect in the walkway was “physically insignificant” and the “defect or the surrounding circumstances” didn’t increase the risk it posed, according to the decision.

“Even assuming, arguendo, that defendant met its burden of demonstrating that the defect was trivial as a matter of law, we conclude that claimant raised an issue of fact,” the panel wrote.

In a deposition, Bennett said that he was walking from the housing area to the commissary at the prison after a rain and there was a large puddle of water on the walkway, he said.

When Bennett tried to step over the puddle his foot came down on a cracked part of the walkway, the concrete shifted under his foot, and he lost balance and fell, according to the decision.

Bennett also submitted parts of depositions from two correction officers who said that inmates are required to use the walkway and are prohibited from stepping on the grass.

The Fourth Department panel found that there was an issue of fact regarding whether the walkway was difficult to use safely.

The panel also found that the state failed to show that prison officials were unaware of the allegedly dangerous condition.

Bennett’s attorney, Brian M. Dratch, also submitted an affidavit of a correction officer who had worked at the prison for 27 years and said he was familiar with the walkway and its condition before Bennett fell.

The officer, who periodically walked the premises to look for anything in need of repair, said the concrete was broken and uneven, and that water can gather there after it rains, but he did not consider the condition to be dangerous.

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