New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HARRIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-015-527, Claim No. 97709


Failure of inmate claimant to offer expert proof that medical personnel at correctional facility deviated from acceptable medical standards in failing to properly diagnose heart attack resulted in dismissal of claim for failure to establish a prima facie case of medical malpractice. Court refused claimant's request to treat claim as one based solely in common law negligence not requiring expert proof.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
Darryl Harris, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Patricia M. Bordonaro, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 20, 2000
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim made at the close of claimant's proof for the failure of claimant to make out a
prima facie case for medical malpractice is granted.
Claimant seeks to recover $300,000 in damages for injuries to his heart resulting from a heart attack which he alleges was not properly diagnosed by medical personnel at the Oneida Correctional Facility, Rome, New York in March, 1997.

Claimant testified that he began experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain on the left side of his body on March 2 or 3, 1997 while working in the prison's law library. He was sent to emergency sick call where he was examined by a nurse and given cough syrup for the chest pain and sent back to his unit with a "no work" slip for the day. The pain continued that night and he became sweaty and experienced tingling in his hands. In the first seven days following the onset of pain claimant visited the clinic 10 to 12 times, several of such visits were on an "emergency sick call" basis. He saw Dr. Phyllis Kent on a few of the visits, was given a "no work" slip and blood was taken to rule out the recurrence of a pre-existing thyroid condition. Claimant went to the gym on the seventh day where he performed his assigned cleaning tasks after which he returned to his bunk. Claimant did not go to lunch that day but was required to attend mandatory recreation. He went to the gym and sat on the bleachers where he felt weak, dizzy and sweaty. Claimant advised a correction officer that he was sick and that person summoned fire and safety personnel who transported him to the clinic. There he saw a nurse and Dr. Kent but he alleges that no tests were taken. He was given a "no work" slip and was returned to his unit.

The following day claimant went to sick call again where he saw a nurse and was referred to Dr. Fred Grabo who ordered that claimant be taken to Faxton Hospital where he underwent blood tests, an EKG and a stress test. Upon being advised that he would be admitted to Faxton Hospital since the test results were inconclusive, claimant refused admission because he did not want to be handcuffed to the hospital bed. He returned to the Oneida Correctional Facility where he stayed in bed Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning Nurse Administrator Barbara Haywood summoned claimant to the clinic where she informed him that he had had a heart attack. Claimant was offered admission to the infirmary which he refused to accept.

On cross-examination claimant admitted that he had also refused an infirmary admission offered to him by Nurse Calhoun on or about March 7, 1997. He acknowledged that he did not produce or offer at trial expert medical testimony in support of his claim. Claimant also acknowledged that he signed two "refusal of medical examination and treatment" forms on March 7 and March 11, 1997.

At the close of claimant's proof defendant's counsel moved to dismiss the claim for claimant's failure to make out a
prima facie case since he failed to offer any expert testimony as to the alleged acts of medical malpractice. Claimant objected to the motion alleging that no such proof was required because his claim is for negligence and not for medical malpractice. The Court reserved decision on the motion which will now be addressed.
Whether a claim is couched in terms of negligence or medical malpractice, if the issues involve conditions beyond the common knowledge of a fact finder expert medical proof will be required to sustain a recovery (
Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653). The issues raised at trial clearly fall outside the common knowledge of the Court. It is unclear from claimant's proof when claimant suffered the heart attack giving rise to this claim and what role, if any, the actions or inactions of the State's medical personnel could have played to prevent it. Only expert medical proof could establish the necessary legal causation required to impose liability and demonstrate that there was a deviation from good and accepted standards of medical care (see, Rossi v Arnot Ogden Med. Ctr., 268 AD2d 916; Spicer v Community Family Planning Council Health Ctr., 272 AD2d 317; Lyons v McCauley, 252 AD2d 516). Here, claimant's failure to present any expert medical proof tending to show when he suffered the heart attack and that the defendant's medical employees deviated from accepted medical standards requires the granting of the dismissal motion.
The Clerk shall enter judgment in accord with this decision.

December 20, 2000
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims