New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-013-502, Claim No. 97416


Prison inmate failed to produce credible evidence establishing medical malpractice in connection with treatment of a broken arm.

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:
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: THOMAS G. RAMSAY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 1, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, an inmate, alleges that while incarcerated at Orleans Correctional Facility (Orleans), and recuperating from a broken arm in the prison infirmary, a Dr. Brij Sinha, an employee of the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), negligently performed a physical examination and, as a result, rebroke his right arm and that following that examination, he was released from the infirmary prematurely. This medical malpractice action resulted.

Claimant broke his arm on July 29, 1997, while incarcerated at Orleans. The proof presented at trial established that he was taken to the nearest hospital, located in Medina, New York, where his injury was diagnosed as a comminuted fracture of the distal third of the humerus of his right arm (Exhibit 3). According to Claimant, his arm was placed in a sling because of the swelling, and he was returned to the infirmary at Orleans pending x-rays and further treatment once the swelling reduced. On August 5, 1997, he was transported to the Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) for further evaluation. The record of that visit (Exhibit 1) confirms the original diagnosis and appears to indicate that the arm had been placed in a fracture brace and then in a sling. Claimant testified that x-rays taken at that time indicated that healing had begun.

Subsequently, Claimant testified that on August 7 or 8, while he was asleep in his bed in the infirmary, Dr. Sinha came to his bed, removed his right arm, which was in the fracture brace, from the sling and began handling the braced arm in a rough manner. This caused Claimant great pain, awakening him from his sleep. As soon as he realized what was happening, and before he could protest, Claimant heard an unusual sound in his right arm and experienced even greater pain. In his opinion, this was a refracture of the arm. He informed the Doctor that the arm had been refractured, but received no response and the examination continued. The examination took approximately ten minutes, and after it was completed, the doctor left the area, requiring Claimant to return his arm to the sling himself.

Following that examination, Claimant's medication was changed, and he was moved from the infirmary to a ward. On August 15 another set of x-rays was taken and read by Dr. C.J. Riggio, who generated a report dated September 15, 1997 (Exhibit 2). Additional x-rays were taken on September 22, 1997, which resulted in another report by Dr. Riggio dated October 10, 1997 (Exhibit 3). Claimant was released back into general population sometime in September and continued to be seen by the medical staff at ECMC approximately every two weeks. He stated that while he received no physical therapy for his arm, he was told to move his hand up the wall until his arm was fully extended and also directions using lateral rotation to increase the range of motion in his shoulder.

After his release from the infirmary, Claimant filed a grievance contending that he should not have been released because, in his opinion, his arm had not healed sufficiently and his release was not in accord with good medical care. The institutional claim was denied and he then filed the subject claim, asserting that his early release was a further act of malpractice.

After limited cross-examination of Claimant, the State moved to dismiss the claim on the basis that Claimant had failed to prove a prima facie case of medical malpractice, as there was no expert testimony setting forth the standard of care required in the treatment for Claimant's injury and establishing whether the treatment received met that standard. The Court, having reserved on that motion at trial, now grants it and dismisses the claim for the reasons set forth below.

In a medical malpractice action, the Claimant has the burden of proving that the doctor failed to use his best judgment and/or failed to use reasonable care in the exercise of his medical knowledge and skill. Indeed, to be successful, Claimant must show the relevant accepted medical standards of care, together with a deviation or departure from those standards (
Kletnieks v Brookhaven Mem. Assn, 53 AD2d 169, 176). The standards of care alleged to have been violated must be those of the State's correctional facilities on a state-wide basis, not a facility-to-facility basis. Further, the rule of reasonable care does not require the exercise of the highest possible degree of care, but rather requires only that the doctor exercise that degree of care that a reasonably prudent doctor would exercise under the same circumstances (Schrempf v State of New York, 66 NY2d 289).
In the instant claim, there is absolutely no proof as to what the standard of care Defendant allegedly breached. In fact, the records relied upon by Claimant fail to support his testimony or the allegations in his claim.

He alleged and testified that the first x-rays taken at ECMC, on August 5, indicated that calcium had started to form at the break site and that doctors informed him that his arm was aligned properly. The proof before me, however, establishes that no new x-rays were taken at ECMC on that occasion, that the medical staff merely reviewed those that had been taken at the Medina hospital. Since those were taken on the day of the fall, they could show only the alignment of the bone and would contain no evidence of calcium buildup at the site of the fracture. I cannot, therefore, credit Claimant's testimony as to that conversation with ECMC doctors.

In addition, I find that there is no support in the medical record for Claimant's allegation that Dr. Sinha refractured his arm during the examination that took place on August 7 or 8. The record, as well as the testimony of Dr. Sinha, leads me to conclude that on the date this incident is alleged to have occurred, Dr. Sinha did not see the Claimant. Moreover, there is no medical evidence before me that indicates that the arm was ever rebroken. In fact, the x-rays taken at the time of Claimant's visit to ECMC in September demonstrate that the fracture was healing normally, something that would not have been apparent had there been a second fracture some nine or ten days after the original injury. Finally, Claimant failed to produce any evidence from which

I could conclude that his release from the infirmary was premature.

The Defendant's motion made at the close of Claimant's testimony, and renewed at the conclusion of its proof, is hereby granted and the claim is dismissed.

All other motions not heretofore ruled upon are now denied.


February 1, 2002
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims