New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SIMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK , #2001-030-505, Claim No. 97290


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:
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney General BY: Elyse Angelico, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 29, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Robert Sims, the Claimant herein, claims negligence and medical malpractice by the Defendant's employees in failing to heed the Claimant's indications to mental health personnel that he was hearing voices telling him to hurt himself. He alleges he cut his wrist on August 12, 1997. The trial of this matter was held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing) on July 27, 2001. Claim numbers 97228 and 96991, alleging assault by a correction officer, were heard at the same time. Exhibits were marked in a continuous series for the three claims.[1] The Court has carefully reviewed the Notices to Admit referred to above, and finds that at least some of the facts asserted therein are pertinent to the present claim.

The Claimant testified to essentially the same facts contained in his claim. On August 12, 1997 he cut his left wrist with the broken edges of a plastic cup while in his cell of the Special Housing Unit (hereafter SHU). [Claimant's Exhibit "11", Inmate Misbehavior Report dated August 12, 1997]. The Claimant asserted that the Misbehavior Report confirms that he asked for placement in the Psychiatric Unit (hereafter PSU) at that time.

In the report Correction Officer E. Vaughn writes that the Claimant was "jumping up and down on his bed. When asked what the problem was he stated he wanted to go to PSU. PSU was consulted and stated that they tried to talk to Sims but he had refused their help earlier. When advised by this writer of PSU's response, inmate Sims broke up plastic cup and began hacking at his arm, saying ‘I bet I'll go to PSU now.' Medical was advised of his action and he was bandaged up in his cell without further incident."[
As noted, it appears he received medical treatment for his injuries, with the nurse on call noting that it was an "alleged self injury to left wrist;" and that the area was cleaned with water, and an antiseptic ointment was applied as well as gauze. [Claimants Exhibit "10", Report of Inmate Injury dated August 12, 1997].

The Claimant testified that he was never invited to give his version of the event, "although the form requires it." [2]
On the form itself the inmate is reported as indicating "I'm OK" in the section entitled "Inmate's Statement." [Ibid.]. He asserted that he had been "hearing voices" for some time, and had notified mental health staff that he wished to go to the Psychiatric Unit. The Defendant stipulated that the Claimant had made numerous inquiries of Sing Sing personnel - both at the immediate level and at the administrative level - concerning his placement in a mental health unit.
The nurse's notes in Claimant's Ambulatory Health Record (hereafter AHR) for August 12, 1997 indicate "PSU notified and [Claimant] seen by...[Registered Nurse] no action taken at this time." [Claimant's Exhibit "9", Ambulatory Health Record for August 12, 1997- August 14, 1997].

The notes for August 13, 1997, where legible, indicate that "inmate hostile...(
illegible) undressed - will need to be rescheduled." [Ibid.].
The notes for August 14, 1997, where legible, indicate the Claimant "[complains] that he was not seen by M.D. yesterday. States he was not hostile as per above AHR;...[complains of] lump on testicles; reschedule...[with] Kapoor next week." [
Claimant said he has never received treatment for his mental illness, although he has complained of symptoms repeatedly.

Claimant's Exhibit "13" is a voluminous medical record detailing the Claimant's medical history - apparently not necessarily complete or in consecutive order from this Court's review - dated from approximately October 11, 1990 through November 21, 1997. The record indicates that the Claimant was regularly seen by both medical and psychiatric personnel from the time of his incarceration through the period referred to in his claim, had varying operating diagnoses including "anti-social personality disorder", and had been prescribed various antipsychotic drugs throughout his incarceration.

On August 17, 1997 the AHR indicates he was seen in the morning, after an "out-burst in HBC night of 8/16/97. Morning of 8/17/97 out burst again. On psych. med. On Naprosyn 500 mg." [Claimant's Exhibit "13", AHR dated August 15, 1997 - August 17, 1997]. This record appears to be from the PSU of Sing Sing where he was evaluated.

On the same day, he was transferred to Shawangunk SHU and continued to be seen by medical personnel. [Claimant's Exhibit "13", AHR dated August 17, 1997 - August 19, 1997]. The notes indicate that on August 19, 1997 the Claimant went from Shawangunk to Clinton Correctional Facility mental health unit. [
Ibid.] These records also indicate that on August 19, 1997 he was noted as needing "[r]esidential crisis treatment" and was "highly dangerous to self and others." [Claimant's Exhibit "13", Treatment Needs/Service Level Designation for Robert Sims at Central New York Psychiatric Center dated August 19, 1997].
On August 22, 1997 Claimant was returned to Shawangunk SHU. On August 27, 1997 and again on August 28, 1997 the "Claimant try to hang himself." [Claimant's Second Request for Admissions, dated August 14, 1998
The Claimant did not offer any testimony by a medical or psychiatric expert.

It is "fundamental law that the State has a duty to provide reasonable and adequate medical care to the inmates of its prisons," including proper diagnosis and treatment.
Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, 789 (3d Dept. 1990), lv. denied, 76 NY2d 701 (1990).
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. A cause of action is premised in medical malpractice when it is the medical treatment, or the lack of it, that is in issue. A Claimant must 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. The "‘claimant must [demonstrate]... that the physician deviated from accepted medical practice and that the alleged deviation proximately caused his (or her) injuries' (
Parker v State of New York , 242 AD2d 785, 786...)." Auger v State, 263 AD2d 929, 931 (3d Dept. 1999). 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, 53 AD2d 1025 (4th Dept. 1976), lv. denied, 40 NY2d 804 (1976). A medical expert's testimony is necessary to establish, at a minimum, the standard of care.
If a claim can be read to allege simple negligence, or medical negligence, then the alleged negligent omissions or acts by the State's employees can 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, 256 (1st Dept. 1986).
In this case only the testimony of the Claimant and limited information from the AHR and other medical records have been submitted to support the claim of medical malpractice. No competent medical evidence was presented, either from a treating physician, such as a treating psychiatrist, or a psychologist, or an expert witness whose opinion was based upon the available medical records, to support the allegation of medical malpractice. Accordingly, there is no medical evidence on any medical issue and no proof that accepted standards of care were not met.
See, Pike v State of New York, 266 AD2d 525 (2d Dept. 1999).
Additionally, from this record there is no indication that the actions of medical caregivers amounted to simple negligence or ministerial neglect.
Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7 (2d Dept. 1996); Coursen v New York Hospital, supra. Claimant has failed to establish a prima facie case.
The Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved on at the time of trial, is hereby granted and Claim number 97290 is hereby dismissed.

Let Judgment be entered dismissing Claim number 97290.

August 29, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]In connection with this intermingling of the three claims, at least two "Requests for Admission" appear to have been served since the claims were filed. § 3123 Civil Practice Law and Rules. In a previous decision of this Court (M-60845; Ruderman, J., January 4, 2000), the Court denied the Defendant's application for an extension of time within which to respond to the claimant's Notices to Admit. The Court stated in pertinent part "...that which was properly set forth in the Notices to Admit is deemed admitted. Claimant is reminded that merely because the Court granted his application, does not establish his entitlement to judgment and that he will be held to his burden of proof at trial."

[2]All quotations are to the trial notes or audio tapes unless otherwise indicated.