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
, 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
" (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 (
, 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.
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
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
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
, 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.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.