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TAYLOR v. UNITED STATES

December 6, 1996

SHARON TAYLOR, as mother and natural guardian of JUSTIN TAYLOR, and SHARON TAYLOR, individually, Plaintiff, against UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SWEET

 Sweet, D.J.

 This opinion sets forth the findings of fact and conclusions upon which judgment will be entered dismissing the claims of plaintiffs Sharon Taylor ("Sharon"), the mother of plaintiff Justin Taylor ("Justin"), (collectively "the Taylors"), for damages Justin suffered when a door which was the property of defendant the United States of America ("the Government") slammed on Justin's hand. It is addressed principally to Justin whose injury was real and painful, but regrettably not the basis for a damage award.

 What happened to you on June 6, 1993, Justin, was an accident. It certainly was not your fault that the door to the playground suddenly slammed on your fingers. The seal had broken on the door closer, the fluid which kept the door from slamming dripped out, and the door smashed your fingers. After several trips to the doctors and the hospital and an operation, you lost the end of your third finger on your left hand. It hurt you a lot when it happened, and the casts and treatment were painful.

 Because it was not your fault and because the accident has caused you a lot of pain and because the Government has a great deal of money and resources, you might think that the fair thing to do would be to give you and your mother $ 100,000 or more which could be used for your benefit or for schooling, or saved for college. In other words, because you were hurt, you should recover. That, in the law, is called absolute liability.

 That does happen when the thing that causes the injury is very dangerous just by its very nature, like dynamite, for example. A door closer is an everyday device, and so absolute liability doesn't apply.

 All of us in our complicated world are responsible for our acts, including the Government. If we do something that hurts someone else, we should try to make up for that harm by paying money damages to the person who got hurt if we are at fault. The idea is that you are responsible for any injury to someone else only if you knew of the danger and did not act to prevent it. The law recognizes there are accidents which occur for which no one is responsible, while there are others that occur because someone was careless or negligent and then that person is responsible.

 In order to win your case, it was necessary to prove that the Government was careless and negligent and did something wrong which caused the door holder to slam on your fingers. If the people who maintained the building in which you lived knew that the seal had broken or that the door closer wasn't working, then, of course, they had a duty to repair it.

 As you heard during the trial, there was a regular inspection of the doors, and nothing wrong was reported. Your case really turned on whether the Government, that is, the maintenance department of Governor's Island, knew about the defective door slammer. The only evidence that they did came from what Officer Campbell said when her deposition was taken. She said that the door had been defective since October 1992 and that she had reported the defective door slammer two to four weeks before you were hurt. However, the people at Governor's Island had no record that she had told them about the door closer.

 What the Government knew and when it knew it is what the trial was all about and what I had to decide. I have decided that I do not believe what Officer Campbell said, and I should tell you why.

 First of all, there is no record, either hers or the Government's, of her statement about the door closer. Of course, she is also a nice lady who would like to see you win. If she had complained a month before you were hurt that the lever of the door slammer was broken, I believe there would have been a record of that complaint. Finally, she stated that the lever of the door closer was broken, but the picture taken right after you were hurt shows that the lever was intact. Finally, if the door closer had been in the condition she said it was for as long as she said it was, it would have been seen and reported by the regular inspectors and the maintenance workers who used the door. Based on everything I saw and heard during the trial, I have decided that Henry Benjamin was telling the truth and Officer Campbell was mistaken.

 I am sure that this decision will be a disappointment to you and your mother, but perhaps someday this need to find fault may protect you against a claim of injury when you did nothing wrong. I feel sure you will overcome the handicap that came from the door slamming on your fingers. I wish I could have awarded you damages, but the rules of law must prevail over a desire to help a bright and attractive young man.

 The more formal portion of the ...


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