New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WRIGHT v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-029-053, Claim No. 95075


Prisoner - malpractice. No medical proof. 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):

Claimant's attorney:
Fitzroy Wright, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBy: Elyse Angelico, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 9, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This claim, by a prisoner appearing
pro se, alleges negligent failure to diagnose a spinal injury by defendant's medical personnel at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereinafter Sing Sing). The trial of this claim was commenced on August 17, 2000 at Sing Sing. The trial was adjourned to December, 2000 to allow claimant time to retain counsel. Claimant was unable to retain counsel and the trial continued on December 18, 2000.
Claimant testified that on July 12, 1995 he injured his back while exercising at Downstate Correctional Facility.[1]
Claimant testified that he was restricted to his cell by the facility medical staff for four days (see Exh. 1), however, two days later he was transferred to Sing Sing.
Claimant stated subsequent to this injury he had constant pain in his right leg, had difficulty walking and complained often to medical personnel regarding this problem (see Exhs. 4, 6, 11 and 12). An x-ray of his lumbosacral spine was taken on August 8, 1995. The report of Dr. Brown of Phelps Radiology Associates indicates there is no evidence of a fracture or subluxation (Exh. 3).

Claimant testified that he was transferred from Sing Sing to Green Haven Correctional Facility (hereinafter Green Haven) on September 27, 1995 and immediately upon his arrival he complained to the medical staff of his problems (see Exhs. 5, 7 and 12).

Exhibit 8 is a Department of Correctional Services Request and Report of Consultation from Green Haven dated January 6, 1996 requesting a "CT Scan of L-S spine". The document also contains a note that an MRI was requested but was not performed because Mr. Wright has claustrophobia. The document also contains a notation dated January 31, 1996 that the appointment for the CT Scan was canceled because the unit was broken. Another CT Scan was requested on February 3, 1996 (see Exh. 13). Claimant stated the test was not performed until March 20, 1996. On December 26, 1996 a lumbar laminectomy was performed on claimant (see Exh. 12, unnumbered Pg. 12). The surgery was performed
17 months after claimant asserts he was injured and claimant alleges that the State was negligent in failing to timely diagnose his injury.
The State owes a duty to its incarcerated citizens to provide them with medical care and treatment. This care must be reasonable and adequate, as an inmate must rely upon the prison authorities to treat and diagnose his medical needs (
Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, 789, lv denied 76 NY2d 701; Gordon v City of New York, 120 AD2d 562, affd 70 NY2d 839).
An action for injuries sustained while under the care of medical professional or facility may be premised upon a theory of negligence, medical negligence, medical malpractice or perhaps, ministerial neglect (
Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7; Hale v State of New York, 53 AD2d 1025, lv denied 40 NY2d 804; Twitchell v MacKay, 78 AD2d 125).
In a medical malpractice claim, the Claimant has the burden of proof and must prove (1) a deviation or departure from accepted practice, and (2) evidence that such deviation was the proximate cause of the injury or other damage. Where the medical treatment or the lack thereof received by a patient is an issue, then the cause of action is premised upon medical malpractice and a claimant must then establish that the medical caregiver either did not possess or did not use reasonable care or best judgment in applying the knowledge and skill ordinarily possessed by practitioners in the field. Without such medical proof, no viable claim that gives rise to liability on the part of the State can be sustained (
Hale v State of New York, supra; Pike v Honsinger, 155 NY 201).
Where expert testimony is necessary, the generally accepted medical standards of care in the community must be established with a deviation or departure from those standards. Then the claimant must establish that he suffered an injury that was proximately caused by the negligence or deviation from those standards (
Kletnieks v Brookhaven Mem. Assn., 53 AD2d 169, 176; cf., Toth v Community Hosp. at Glen Cove, 22 NY2d 255, 263).
Conversely, when the claim alleges or can be read to allege simple negligence or medical negligence, then the alleged negligent omissions or commissions by State caregivers can be readily determined by the fact finder using common knowledge without the necessity of expert testimony. However, this theory is limited to "those cases where the alleged negligent act may be readily determined by the trier of the facts based on common knowledge" (
Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, 114 AD2d 254, 256). Such cases have involved scalding a patient with a hot water bottle (Phillips v Buffalo General Hospital, 239 NY 188), leaving an electric lightbulb under the sheets (Dillon v Rockaway Beach Hospital , 284 NY 176), leaving a postoperative patient unattended in a bathroom (Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, supra), and other similar circumstances.
In the instant matter, the gravamen of claimant's action seeks damages for a failure to timely diagnose an admittedly extremely painful condition. Frankly, this Court is surprised that claimant's condition, which was determined severe enough to require eventual surgery, could go undiagnosed for a period of 17 months. Given proper counsel and the testimony of experts, it appears quite possible to the Court that claimant would, in fact, have established a
prima facie case at trial. Nevertheless, failure to diagnose is not so simple as to be within the ambit of those matters which the Court may readily decide using common knowledge. Medical diagnosis remains as much an art as a science and it is not within the knowledge of this Court to determine at what stage a misdiagnosis becomes actionable negligence. Thus, the Court must find that claimant in this matter is asserting a claim in medical malpractice.
In the matter at bar, the Court has only the testimony of the claimant and limited information from his ambulatory health record to support his claim of medical malpractice. There was no competent medical evidence presented, either from a treating physician or from an expert witness to support a finding of medical malpractice. Hence, the Court has no medical evidence on any medical issue and no proof that accepted standards of care were breached. Furthermore, there was no expert medical testimony offered to prove causation or chronology regarding the spine injury. Claimant's unsubstantiated assertions, without more, are simply insufficient to establish a
prima facie case of medical malpractice (see, Wells v State of New York, 228 AD2d 581).
The State's motion to dismiss, made at the conclusion of the trial, upon which the Court reserved decision, is now granted and the claim is hereby dismissed. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

February 9, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] Claimant is not alleging any negligence on the part of the State in causing his injury.