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$145,000 Awarded to New York Prisoner Who Falls While Cutting Wet Grass

$145,000 Awarded to New York Prisoner Who Falls While Cutting Wet Grass

A New York Court of Claims has awarded $145,000 in damages to a prisoner who slipped and fell on wet grass while mowing a hilly section of the prison’s lawn. The fall, which occurred at the Fishkill Correctional facility on July 25, 2003, resulted in prisoner Wallace Johnson fracturing his right ankle.

As part of Johnson’s prison job, he was directed to mow the lawn. In the week preceding his accident, it had rained intermittently and the night before. While it had not rained that day, the weather was still gloomy and the grass was wet. Nonetheless, guard Vincent Guarino ordered Johnson to mow the grass on the hill.

When Johnson urged Guarino to mow the area the next day because it was “very steep” and slippery, he was told it had to be done that day. To avoid disciplinary action for disobeying an order, Johnson mowed the area. Upon finishing, he shut the mower off and began walking towards the other prisoners and staff had gathered.

As he walked towards the others, Johnson slipped and fell. Medical staff put him in a wheelchair and ordered him taken to a hospital after an examination and pictures were taken. It was determined at the hospital that Johnson’s fractured ankle required bone reduction surgery. He remained in the hospital for eight days and the prison infirmary for another three months. A subsequent surgery was required to remove loosened hardware from the first surgery.

Johnson filed suit for his injuries. At trial, a doctor testified to the injuries, surgeries, and the permanent injury. Those injuries included pain and loss of range of motion in the right ankle. In the future, Johnson will require some type of surgery on that ankle.

Court found the State failed in its duty to assure Johnson was afforded a safe place to work by failing to assess the conditions of the wet grass by any measurable means. It wrote, “It is difficult to credit that a ‘visual inspection’ would reap the necessary information concerning the grass.”

Johnson, however, was found to be 30% liable. He contended that his State- issued boots had no grip, arguing they “were completely flat—so that if you slipped on water you would go just like you were water skiing.” The Court said Johnson could have done something to alert prison personnel as to the boots’ condition, ensuring he did try to perform the task under dangerous conditions.

After a damages trial, the Court, on February 4, 2008, awarded Johnson, $65,000 in past pain and suffering and $85,000 in future pain and suffering. That $145,000 award was reduced by 30%, awarding Johnson $101,500 and the cost of the filing fee. See: Johnson v. State of New York, N.Y. Court of Claims, White Plains, Case No. 108374.

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Related legal case

Johnson v. State of New York