New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DEMATA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-017-031, Claim No. 97662


The Court dismissed this inmate's medical negligence/medical malpractice claim which alleged that claimant fell on a stairwell and injured his back because defendant failed to provide him with physical therapy and make other accommodations for a prior knee condition.

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:
Juan Demata, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: J. Gardner Ryan, Esq.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 10, 2000
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant filed this claim on January 15, 1998, alleging that he fell on September 12, 1997 at 3:30 p.m. on a stairwell while incarcerated at Fishkill Correctional Facility and injured his back (see Exh. 1). He claims that the State was responsible for his fall because his requests for physical therapy, housing on a first-floor unit and to be excused from work assignments based on a prior knee injury were denied and resulted in a weakened condition in his knees. A unified trial on this claim was held at Fishkill Correctional Facility. At trial, claimant withdrew allegations in his claim sounding in medical malpractice concerning his knee surgery and treatment of a diabetic condition. Claimant testified at trial with the assistance of a Spanish-speaking interpreter, Officer Bowden.

Claimant testified that on September 12, 1997 at 3:30 p.m., he fell while climbing stairs at the Fishkill Correctional Facility and injured his back
. Exhibit 1 (p 8-b) indicates that claimant was excused from work from 9/12/97 to 9/16/97. Claimant testified that prior to his incarceration he had injured both knees in a car accident and the proof elicited at trial indicates that he had knee problems prior to September 1997 (see, id., p G, Ambulatory Health Records from Fishkill Correctional Facility, notations dated 8/9/96 & 8/20/96; id., p Q, notation dated 7/30/96). Claimant testified that he had surgery on his left knee on March 20, 1997 and was told that he needed physical therapy thereafter to help him move . According to claimant, by April 9, 1997 he had still not been given any therapy, which prompted him to file an Inmate Grievance on that date (id., p H.) A consultation report authored by Dr. Holder on April 23, 1997 indicates that rehabilitation was recommended for claimant for "quad strengthening exercise and ROM," and provides that claimant is excused from work for two months and should be given access to the gym (id., p T).A Consultation Report authored by Dr. Holder dated May 21, 1997 (id., p O) states "recommend PT if available" (emphasis supplied). Claimant apparently did not receive physical therapy as a result of either recommendation.
Claimant testified that on June 30, 1997, he wrote to Dr. Mikler, a physician at Fishkill, and advised him that he had a painful knee condition and had difficulty ambulating on stairs (
see, id., p I). Dr. Mikler apparently did not approve physical therapy in response to claimant's letter. A memorandum to claimant from Wayne L. Strack, Superintendent of Fishkill Correctional Facility, dated July 10, 1997 indicates that a review of claimant's medical records by Dr. Mikler, the Facility Health Services Director and Ms. M. Prison, A Nurse Administrator, revealed that Dr. Holder, his operating surgeon had developed an appropriate treatment plan for him which included a self-exercise program (id. p H). Superintendent Strack also stated that he had been advised that claimant's participation in daily activities, such as stair-climbing and walking, would strengthen his leg muscles. Claimant also filed a grievance on August 14, 1997 in which he sought to be excused from work because of his knee condition. The grievance was also apparently denied, although no documentation was provided to substantiate this contention.
Claimant testified that he believed that he was required to continue working despite the painful knee condition or risk being charged with refusal of a direct order, which would cause him to be punished with solitary confinement and would negatively impact his chances for parole. According to claimant, because he was denied physical therapy to help him recover, was not excused from work and was required to climb stairs to reach his cell on the second floor, his knee condition did not improve, causing him to fall on the stairs and injure his back.

On cross-examination, claimant agreed that he has had numerous operations on both knees since 1994 and that since that time there have been periods of recuperation during which he was excused from work. He conceded that he was eventually advised by his physicians to return to work, and that although he had a permit for a cane, he was denied his requests for further work restrictions by facility physicians.

Based on the foregoing proof, claimant seeks to hold defendant responsible for his fall, which he claims was a result of defendant's failure to provide him with post-surgery physical therapy and its denial of his requests for first-floor housing and to be excused from work assignments. To recover, claimant is required to demonstrate that the State's denial of physical therapy and refusal of his other requests constituted negligence, and that, in turn, such negligence was a proximate cause of his injuries.

Claimant has failed to demonstrate that the medical decisions made on claimant's behalf were negligent. Although physical therapy was recommended after claimant's most recent surgery before the accident at the core of this claim, such therapy was to be provided only "if available." Additionally, according to a review of his medical history by the medical staff at Fishkill, claimant was to engage in a program of self-exercise, and daily activities such as stair-climbing were believed to be helpful to his progress. Claimant has failed to present expert medical proof to establish that the failure to provide him with physical therapy, to excuse him from work and to require him to climb stairs deviated from accepted standards of medical care, actually worsened his condition or placed him in danger of a fall, and the Court cannot reach such a conclusion by a simple review of claimant's medical records.

Claimant also failed to establish that his diagnosed back problems were proximately caused by his stairway fall. While claimant presented documentation indicating that on September 22, 1997 he was diagnosed with mild degenerative lumbar spondylosis at the L3 and L4 levels and that he had suffered trauma to his back ten days earlier which corresponds to the date of the fall at issue (
see, Ex. 1, p 9), claimant was required to put forth expert medical testimony to establish that this particular back condition was a result of the fall. The Court is unable to make such a determination from a bald reading of the medical records in the absence of expert proof.
Accordingly, Claim No. 97662 is DISMISSED.


August 10, 2000
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims