New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GUZMAN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-016-069, Claim No. 96524


Following trial, claim of pro se inmate who had hit lip on metal barrier when DOCS bus stopped was dismissed.

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):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant's attorney:
Armando Guzman
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: James E. Shoemaker, AAG
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 25, 2000
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

claim of Armando Guzman arises from an incident in which he hit his lip on a metal barrier in a Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") "mini-bus." Guzman also complains of the medical treatment he received after the incident. The claim was tried at Sullivan Correctional Facility on June 20, 2000. Claimant testified on his own behalf. Defendant called correction officers Franklin Mitchell and Thomas Curry as well as DOCS nurse Sabrina von Hagn.
Guzman testified that on May 30, 1997, he boarded a DOCS mini-bus to be transported to Elmira Correctional Facility. He was shackled and handcuffed and told where to sit, apparently behind a metal screen or barrier in the front of the bus. Guzman said that other inmates, whom he referred to as "disciplinary inmates" since were being transferred to disciplinary housing, were also on the bus that day. According to Guzman, while en route, the driver, Officer Mitchell, told the disciplinary inmates to stop being loud, but they did not heed his order. Guzman said the driver then became "agitated," speeded up the bus for a few seconds, after which he slammed on the brakes, "smirking," while asking the disciplinary inmates to "keep the noise down." Guzman stated that when the bus stopped, he was thrown against the metal barrier and cut his lip. He recounted that he told the driver he was bleeding and asked if he could have gauze from the first aid kit on the bus, but the driver replied that he would have to wait to see a nurse at the next facility they stopped at. Claimant also contended that at some point the driver apologized to him, saying that the disciplinary inmates had angered him and he was "just trying to do his job."

The next stop of the bus was a rest stop.[1]
Claimant said that this stop occurred approximately two hours into the trip, but he also said that he thought the entire trip from Sullivan to Elmira took two hours
The following stop was Southport Correctional Facility, where Guzman saw a nurse who made recommendations for his treatment at his ultimate destination, Elmira, where he was in fact treated. Guzman said that he did not receive any stitches for the cut -- which he described as "not a big cut" -- adding that he had been bleeding for two hours after the incident without any treatment. Guzman recalled that the Elmira nurse told him to wash his lip with soap and water. He also asserted that when he was thrown back into his seat after hitting the barrier, the box covering his handcuffs cut into his back and he had shoulder pain from the incident.

Mitchell testified that he was a transportation officer for DOCS. He recalled that on May 30, 1997, he was transporting 12 inmates, including Guzman, and had a special license for the bus, which he regularly drove.

Mitchell said that although he recalled certain inmates being loud and boisterous, and recalled ordering them to be quiet, he denied having been agitated or speeding up and slamming on the brakes. To his knowledge, no other inmates fell out of their seats or were injured on the bus. In fact, Mitchell stated that he did not even learn that Guzman had hurt his lip until he heard other inmates say that Guzman's lip was bleeding. At that point, Mitchell recalled, the bus was close to the exit for the rest stop. Mitchell recounted that once there, after lunch and the use of the restrooms, he pulled into a nearby service station (because the rest area had no water), where he dampened some napkins for Guzman, who refused the napkins or any help, saying he was all right.

Mitchell explained that the next stop was Southport – at most 20 minutes from the rest stop. Mitchell said that although Guzman repeatedly stated he did not need help, Mitchell directed him to see a nurse at Southport. Mitchell also stated that Guzman never asked for anything from the first aid kit. He testified that he had received training in first aid, but did not offer anything from the kit to claimant as he did not believe that there was anything that could be useful to him. Mitchell said he might have apologized to claimant because of his "professionalism," but maintained that he had never slammed on the brakes.

Thomas Curry testified that he was a transport officer on the bus on which claimant was riding, but he had no particular recollection of the trip or incident and did not recognize Guzman. He explained that two correction officers travel on the transport bus – the driver, and an officer who is armed and sits in the front "jump seat"; he served in the latter position on this particular trip. On cross-examination, Curry stated that DOCS buses do not have seat belts for inmates or any other restraints to prevent them from falling out of their seats.

Sabrina von Hagn testified that on the day in question, she was a nurse at Southport Correctional Facility. At trial, she reviewed Guzman's Ambulatory Health Records for May 30, 1997 (see Claimant's Exhibit 1), and stated that she prepared and signed the top portion which states "Seen on way to Elmira . . . Driver of bus hit brakes and inmate Guzman went forward hitting metal screen with upper lip. Noted ½ [illegible word] laceration to upper lip [right] side. Needs steri strips/needs area cleaned [illegible word] -- steri strips applied."

Von Hagn testified that she saw claimant in the draft area of Southport where there are no medical supplies, so she called Elmira to advise that claimant was coming. The nurse said that if there had been supplies, she would have put Betadyne on the cut and applied a steri strip. Von Hagn said she saw no major blood loss and described the cut as a very superficial laceration.

The following entry on the Ambulatory Health Record, apparently made by a nurse at Elmira provides "seen at reception area . . . hit his lip when the vehicle he was riding in had to brake. [Inmate] had a very small 1/4 cm laceration noted to the [right] side of his upper lip. [Inmate] denies any other injuries. This undersigned nurse feels no sutures are required. Advised to keep wound clean and dry [and to] advise [medical department] of any further problems."

Finally, it should be noted that at the trial, three affidavits of other inmates who were on the bus with claimant were marked as claimant's Exhibits 4-6 for identification and the issue of admissibility was reserved. Affidavits offered in lieu of the live testimony of the affiants are ordinarily not admissible as proof of the facts contained in the affidavits, because the adverse party has no opportunity to cross-examine. See, e.g.,
Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. v Manufacturers and Traders Trust Co., 174 AD2d 548, 571 NYS2d 726 (1st Dept 1991), lv denied, 78 NY2d 860, 576 NYS2d 218 (1991). Accordingly, Exhibits 4-6 are inadmissible.
* * *
In a March 18, 1998 Decision and Order, Judge Philip J. Patti dismissed those portions of Guzman's claim that arose from the negligent operation or use of a motor vehicle on the ground that Guzman had failed to plead a "serious injury" pursuant to the Insurance Law. The remaining causes of action essentially are that: 1) defendant failed to equip the bus with safety belts; 2) the incident was an assault and battery in that the driver recklessly or deliberately slammed on the brakes; and 3) claimant's medical treatment following the incident was inadequate.

As to safety belts, Vehicle and Traffic Law §383 provides that school buses must have a safety belt for each passenger seat. However, buses other than school buses – such as the one in which Guzman was riding – are only required to have a safety belt for the driver; safety belts are not required for passenger seats.

Regarding assault and battery, Guzman testified that Mitchell deliberately speeded up the bus and then slammed on the brakes, while Mitchell denied this. Aside from this diametrically opposed testimony, the only other evidence that claimant presented was Mitchell's apology. However, such an apology is just as consistent with a negligent braking (which cause of action has already been dismissed), or even with mere sympathy that an injury had occurred. In short, I find that claimant has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that an assault and battery occurred.

Finally, with regard to medical treatment, "[i]t is fundamental law that the State has a duty to provide reasonable and adequate medical care to the inmates of its prisons." Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, 789, 552 NYS2d 189 (3d Dept 1990), lv denied, 76 NY2d 701, 557 NYS2d 878 (1990). However, "[w]hile the State has a duty to render adequate medical services to inmates without undue delay, in order for the State to be liable it must be shown that the delays in diagnosis and/or treatment were a proximate or aggravating cause of the claimed injury . . ." (citation omitted). Marchione v State of New York, 194 AD2d 851, 854-55, 598 NYS2d 592, 594 (2d Dept 1993). In this case, it is undisputed that claimant received medical treatment for what he himself referred to as "not a big cut." As to any delay, even assuming, arguendo, that there was, as claimant stated, a two-hour lapse from the time of the injury to treatment, Guzman presented no evidence that this aggravated or worsened his injury.
In view of the foregoing, this claim of Armando Guzman is dismissed.


August 25, 2000
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

  1. [1]There was some discrepancy as to the purpose of the rest stop. Mitchell testified that the inmates were given lunch and used the restroom. Claimant stated that lunch was not served.