New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SMITH v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-009-103, Claim No. 95794


Synopsis


This claim alleged negligence against the staff of Auburn Correctional Facility in failing to provide prompt and adequate medical care. After trial, the Court found no unreasonable delay in responding to claimant's requests for medical attention, and therefore dismissed the claim.

Case Information

UID:
2001-009-103
Claimant(s):
ANTHONY SMITH
Claimant short name:
SMITH
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
95794
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
Nicholas V. Midey, Jr.
Claimant's attorney:
ANDRE R. SOBOLEVSKY, ESQ.
BY: Gregory G. McPhee, Esq.,Of Counsel.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Edward F. McArdle, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 25, 2001
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision
Claimant alleges that the defendant State of New York failed to provide timely and adequate medical care to him while he was incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility, where he sustained an injury to his right middle finger on February 11, 1997.

The trial of this claim was ordered bifurcated. This decision deals solely with the issue of liability.

In connection with a prior motion[1]
relating to this claim, claimant advised the Court that he did not intend to present any expert medical testimony, and that he would rely on medical records and lay witness testimony to establish his claim that the facility failed to provide him with timely medical treatment.
Uncontroverted testimony established that on February 11, 1997, claimant was participating in a vocational class at Auburn Correctional Facility. While he was drilling wood, he sustained an injury to his right hand, and in particular his right middle finger, when it was jammed into the wood. He was examined on the day of the injury by an infirmary nurse at the facility, who found that the finger had swelled and prescribed Tylenol for the discomfort. At the time of this examination, claimant made a statement in a "Report of Inmate Injury" that "I am alright (sic) hand just a little bit soar (sic)" (see, Defendant's Exhibit A). The nurse advised claimant to seek follow-up treatment if the pain and/or swelling continued.

Claimant testified that over the next several days, he continued to experience substantial pain, and that the swelling persisted. Claimant contends that due to the condition of his hand, he requested further medical attention after the date of the accident. Claimant stated that he requested medical attention on February 14, 1997 and February 18, 1997, but these requests were ignored. Because of the continued pain, claimant again made a request for a sick call visit on February 19, 1997. Correction Officer Hutchings, who was on duty in claimant's cell block at the time, observed that claimant's hand was severely swollen, advised the nursing department of claimant's condition, and was instructed to put claimant on the sick call list for the following day.

The next day, February 20, 1997, claimant was examined, x-rays were taken, and he was diagnosed with a broken finger. Upon making this diagnosis, claimant was then immediately transported to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where he was treated and his hand was placed in a cast.

Claimant contends that the nine day delay in treating his injury, and the failure to properly diagnose his injury, are attributable to negligence on the part of the State.

It is well-settled that the State has an obligation to provide ordinary and appropriate medical treatment to those inmates in its institutions (
Gordon v City of New York, 120 AD2d 562, affd 70 NY2d 839; Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788; lv denied 76 NY2d 701). A claim may be premised either as one sounding in negligence or one for medical malpractice.
It is claimant's position, however, that this is not a claim based upon medical malpractice, but rather is one based on the alleged negligence attributable to the staff at Auburn Correctional Facility in failing to provide timely and adequate care. If a claim alleges negligence, or medical negligence, then the alleged negligent omissions or acts by the State's employees must be able to be readily determined by a fact finder using common knowledge without the necessity of expert testimony (
Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, 114 AD2d 254). Similarly, the State may be found liable for ministerial neglect if its employees fail to comply with an institution's own administrative procedures and protocols for dispensing medical care to inmates (Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7).
Testimony at trial established that immediately after the claimant was injured, he was in fact seen by medical personnel at the facility. Based upon the initial examination and claimant's statement that his hand was just a bit sore, the examining nurse prescribed medication.

The Court finds that claimant received medical treatment on a timely basis immediately following his accident. Although claimant was not diagnosed with a fracture until nine days after the accident, he did receive timely treatment. This Court cannot make a determination whether such treatment was inadequate, or deviated from good and accepted standards of medical care, without expert medical testimony.

Claimant testified that he then made requests for further medical attention on February 14, 1997 and again on February 18, 1997. However, there is no record that claimant made a request for medical attention on February 14
th, nor was there any corroboration, testimonial or otherwise, that this request had been made.[2]
Regarding claimant's request for medical attention on February 18, 1997, health records indicate that claimant failed to appear at the sick call that day. At trial, claimant testified that he elected not to appear for this medical appointment so that he could instead attend a family visit.

Claimant's next request for a sick call appointment, made on February 19, 1997, was accommodated by an appointment held the next day at which time the diagnosis was made and treatment was provided.

It is reasonable to conclude that since claimant chose not to appear for his scheduled appointment on February 18, 1997, he was not in a great deal of pain at the time, nor was the swelling so severe to give claimant, or any facility personnel, cause for concern.

The Court must therefore consider whether the one day delay (from claimant's request for medical attention made to Correction Officer Hutchings on February 19
th to his treatment on February 20th) was unreasonable.
From the record, there is no indication that the actions of medical care givers amounted to simple negligence or ministerial neglect. Under these circumstances, the Court finds that there was no unreasonable delay in responding to claimant's requests for additional medical attention, or any failure to comply with facility procedures and protocols. The Court does not accept claimant's uncorroborated testimony that he requested medical attention on February 14
th, and claimant did not appear for his requested sick call on February 18th. The Court finds that an adequate and timely response was made to his request for attention on February 19th, which resulted in his diagnosis and treatment on February 20th.
After considering all of the testimony and evidence, and after due deliberation, the Court finds that claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the State was negligent in providing adequate and timely medical attention to his needs.

Accordingly, Claim No. 95794 is hereby DISMISSED.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.


September 25, 2001
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY, JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1] See Decision and Order to Motion No. M-62561, dated January 18, 2001.
[2] The claim, dated March 3, 1997, makes no reference that claimant sought, and did not receive, medical attention on February 14th.