New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

THORNE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-029-086, Claim No. 89580


Inmate, pro se, sustained injuries when a DOCS employee transporting clmt by a van stuck a deer. Clmt failed to establish he sustained injuries as defined by Insurance Law; failed to establish liability of defendant and failed to prove the accident was, in fact, the cause of his injuries.

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:
Rodney Parker Thorne, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBy: J. Gardner Ryan, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 19, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This claim, by an inmate appearing
pro se, concerns a motor vehicle accident that occurred on December 7, 1992 while claimant and several other inmates were being transported in a van owned by the State of New York and operated by an employee of the Department of Correctional Services. The trial of this claim was held at Fishkill Correctional Facility on July 3, 2001.
Claimant was the only witness to testify at trial concerning the facts of the accident. Claimant stated that the van struck a deer and he was injured as a result. He submitted into evidence medical records concerning his back surgery and the Department of Motor Vehicle Accident Report from December 7, 1992 (see, Exhibits 1 and 2). He testified on cross-examination that he was shackled but not secured by a seat belt when the accident occurred. Claimant maintains that upon impact, he flew out of the seat injuring his leg and back. He further testified that he was not aware of any defects with the van.

The driver of a motor vehicle must exercise reasonable care taking into account the actual and potential dangers existing from weather, road traffic and other conditions (see,
Tenczar v Milligan, 47 AD2d 773, lv denied 36 NY2d 645). Based upon the evidence presented at trial, the Court finds that the claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the State employee driving the van at the time of the accident was negligent. Claimant offered no testimony or submitted any evidence to establish that the actions of the driver or any other state employees were negligent. Negligence cannot be inferred solely from the occurrence of an accident (see, Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850, 851; see also, Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874).
Further, claimant failed to establish that he sustained any serious injury as defined by Insurance Law § 5102 (d). As a passenger in a motor vehicle, claimant was a "covered person" as defined by Insurance Law § 5102 (j). Thus it is required that claimant prove the existence of a "serious injury", as defined by Insurance Law § 5102 (d) as follows:
"Serious injury" means a personal injury which results in death; dismemberment; significant disfigurement; a fracture; loss of a fetus; permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system; permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member; significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or a medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person's usual and customary daily activities for not less than ninety days during the one hundred eight days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.
Claimant has the burden of proof in establishing that he sustained a serious injury (
Cooper-Fry v Kolket, 245 AD2d 846) and the burden to submit expert medical evidence when the facts of the case so require (Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653). Although claimant submitted medical records into evidence, none of those documents illustrate that injuries to the claimant were the direct result of the accident that occurred on December 7, 1992. While in rare cases, where the injury is within the experience and observation of ordinary lay persons, causation and "serious injury" may be established without expert medical testimony (Lanpont v Savvas Cab Corp., 244 AD2d 208), such is not the case here. Claimant's primary alleged injuries are internal injuries to his back and are not within the ordinary knowledge of a lay person or this Court. The Court cannot ascertain through the examination of claimant's medical records that the injuries to his back and subsequent surgery were in any way caused by the accident on December 7, 1992. Thus, claimant must submit expert medical testimony regarding causation and prognosis in order to establish a prima facie case that he sustained a serious injury as a result of this accident (Andre v Seem, 234 AD2d 325) demonstrating objective findings through diagnostic studies, X-rays, CAT scans, or MRIs in order to diagnose a spinal injury (Bushman v DiCarlo, 268 AD2d 920). An expert medical witness must then establish the degree of the injuries and causation to a reasonable level of medical certainty (Dumas v Valley View House, Inc., 235 AD2d 767).
Claimant has not presented a
prima facie case establishing liability of the defendant. He has not proven the negligence of the State beyond the occurrence of an accident. Further, claimant has failed to prove that the accident on December 7, 1992 was in fact, the cause of his injuries. As such, claimant has not met his burden and the claim is dismissed. All motions made at trial, upon which the court reserved decision, are now hereby denied. The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

July 19, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims