Claimant, Lawrence Johnson, an inmate appearing
, alleges among other things that he was denied proper medical
care; that he was improperly removed from the hospital area of the Elmira
Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Facility"); and that he was placed into a
non-handicapped accessible cell in the Special Housing Unit (hereinafter "SHU"),
at said Facility, all to his physical and emotional detriment while in the
custody of correction officials at the Facility. The trial of this Claim was
held at the Elmira Correctional Facility on April 30,
Claimant testified that on May 17, 1996, he was removed from a hospital
isolation cell at said Facility to SHU as a result of a disciplinary violation.
Claimant testified that he was medically disabled; was a candidate for knee
surgery; was suffering from chest pains, and should have been allowed to stay in
the hospital isolation cell as opposed to being transferred to SHU. He further
testified that he was told at the time of the transfer that the cell he was
being transferred to was handicap accessible, however upon arrival at SHU he
alleges the cell was not accessible and that there were no grab bars; no trapeze
over his bed; no suitable bed for back and leg disorders; and that the toilet in
said cell was not handicap accessible. He further alleges that during the first
three days of residence in SHU he was denied his medication resulting in
constant pain; was unable to walk, and therefore was not able to get out of bed.
Claimant testified that he remained in this SHU cell for sixty days. Claimant
alleged that immediately prior to his transfer he was complaining of chest
pains, but after being seen by the Facility hospital nurse and physician he was
approved for transfer from the hospital to SHU. Claimant was highly disturbed
that both the nurse and the doctor believed he was
his illnesses and referred to him as a malingerer.
On cross-examination Claimant confirmed that he was removed from the isolation
cell in the hospital to SHU as punishment for taking medication prescribed for
another inmate. He reiterated that because of knee problems as well as lower
back pain, his movement was extremely limited and he should not have been
removed from the hospital cell unless he was taken to a handicap accessible
cell. He further acknowledged that he has since refused his knee surgery and
has filed various grievances against the Facility, none of which have been found
in his favor. After Claimant spent sixty days in SHU he was returned to the
hospital isolation cell. Claimant offered no other proof.
On its case, the State called Cheng Yin, M.D., a clinical physician employed by
the Facility. He has been employed by the Department of Correctional Services
for the last ten years. He testified that in May of 1996 he saw the Claimant,
who was complaining of knee pain, and treated him with steroid injections.
Claimant was referred to an orthopod who confirmed that the Claimant was a
candidate for a total knee replacement. Upon review of the Claimant's medical
chart on May 16, 1996, the doctor concluded that there was no reason for the
Claimant not to be placed in SHU as a result of Claimant taking the medication
of another inmate. He confirmed that the Claimant was a good candidate for
surgery, and that his knee disorder would cause painful walking or pain after
walking, but other than that inconvenience he was not so injured as to being
unable to walk or function normally within the confines of the SHU. The witness
testified that the Claimant could move around without great difficulty, did not
need a wheelchair, and that all of his complaints were purely subjective. He
concluded that Claimant could be transferred to SHU and serve and function there
without any difficulty.
The State also called Anne Rabideau, who was employed at the Facility as the
scheduling nurse and responsible for staff oversight at the hospital infirmary.
She testified that she was familiar with Lawrence Johnson and aware of his
situation on May 16, 1996. She confirmed, based upon her review of his medical
chart and contact with the Claimant, that there was no reason why the Claimant
could not be moved to SHU for his sixty-day sentence.
No further proof was offered by either side.
It is well-settled "[t]hat the State has a duty to provide reasonable and
adequate medical care to the inmates of its prisons." (Rivers v State of New
, 159 AD2d 788, 789, lv denied
76 NY2d 701). Generally, simple
negligence is the appropriate theory to pursue when the alleged negligent act or
omission is readily determinable by the trier of fact based on common knowledge.
(Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center
, 114 AD2d 254 [leaving
postoperative patient unattended]). However, if a patient's treatment or lack
thereof is in controversy, then the case is more appropriately premised upon the
more particularized theory of medical malpractice. (Hale v State of New
, 53 AD2d 1025, lv denied
40 NY2d 804). A person asserting
medical malpractice has the burden of proving a deviation from accepted practice
and evidence that such deviation was a proximate cause of the injury sustained.
(Macey v Hassam,
97 AD2d 919). Moreover, a claimant must establish the
medical provider 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. (Hale v State of New York,
53 AD2d 1025,
40 NY2d 804).
Here, Claimant alleges various misdeeds by Facility medical personnel
including, but not limited to, improperly moving him into a non-handicapped
accessible cell in SHU despite his medical complaints; failure to treat his
various ailments; and a denial of medication. In this Court's view, all of
Claimant's allegations are better suited to a medical malpractice theory
inasmuch as they relate to his medical treatment which are not matters within
the common knowledge of this Court, namely his alleged medical need for a
handicapped accessible cell; denial of medical care; and denial of medication.
(Scott v Uljanov,
74 NY2d 673; Duffen v State of New York
AD2d 653, lv denied
91 NY2d 810). As such, in order to be successful on
a medical malpractice claim, Claimant was required to present expert medical
testimony in support of his claim. (Macey v Hassam
, 97 AD2d 919).
Rather, Claimant offered only his subjective opinion as to what medical
treatment should have been provided by the Facility. In short, in the absence
of any testimony from a medical expert, Claimant has failed to establish a prima
facie case of medical malpractice, since the Court is not permitted to speculate
about medical matters where no expert proof has been offered. (Macey v
, 97 AD2d 919). Quite simply, in the absence of any testimony from a
medical expert that the medical treatment and care that Claimant received was
improper, the Court has no proof from which it might conclude that accepted
standards of care were not met; that any medical provider that treated Claimant
did not possess the requisite knowledge and skill; that any medical provider did
not use reasonable care; or that any treatment rendered or denied harmed
Claimant in any respect. In fact, to the contrary, this Court found the
testimony of Dr.Yin and Nurse Rabideau to be most credible in their assessment
of Claimant as a malingerer who, among other things, has continually refused
knee replacement surgery in order to maintain access to special medical
attention at the Facility. In sum, the Court finds that Claimant has received
proper medical care and that Claimant's allegations of medical malpractice are
totally without merit.
To the extent that this Claim could also be construed to contain allegations
based upon medical negligence, this Court also finds the proof lacking in this
regard as well. There was nothing from this record from which the actions of
the medical care givers could be construed as negligent.
Accordingly, the State's motion to dismiss made at the conclusion of the trial
is now granted and Claim No. 94340 is DISMISSED.
ENTER JUDGMENT ACCORDINGLY.