New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

STRIBLING v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-019-025, Claim No. 99927


Claimant failed to establish prima facie case of medical malpractice or medical negligence; Claim 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:
Defendant's attorney:
BY: James E. Shoemaker, Assistant Attorney General,of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 12, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Alvin D. Stribling, a
pro se inmate, alleges he was injured due to the negligence of the Department of Correctional Services while in custody at Southport Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Facility"). The trial of this Claim was heard on July 30, 2002, at the Elmira Correctional Facility.

Claimant testified that on December 24, 1998, he was transferred to the Southport Correctional Facility. Claimant alleged he suffers from spinal arthritis and was unable to use an upper bunk. However, the Facility did not have his medical records, so on January 11, 1999 he was assigned to Cell E-4-33 and was ordered to take the top bunk. Claimant states that he should not have been placed on a top bunk because of his spinal condition and as a result he fell while descending from his bed, injuring his back and face. Claimant was later taken to the infirmary where he received five stitches above his left eye. Claimant was subsequently transferred to a lower bed, but later returned to an upper bunk. Claimant continued to have problems accessing his upper bunk and complains he never received a bottom bunk assignment. On August 12, 1999, Claimant was transferred to Hudson Correctional Facility where, in Claimant's own words, he has been "treated fine".[1]
Claimant alleges that the failure of the Facility to have his complete medical records resulted in them placing him in a top bunk, negligently placing him at risk for injury while ascending or descending from his bed. Claimant rested.

The State called Dr. John Alves, who is the Medical Director at the Facility. In reviewing the Facility's medical record, Dr. Alves testified that on January 13, 1999, this Claimant was referred to x-ray for thoracic spine examination. The radiologist's report indicates that the Claimant's thoracic spine was in all respects normal and that the Claimant did not suffer from spinal arthritis or any other spinal abnormality which affected Claimant's ability to ambulate and/or work. Consequently, Dr. Alves was of the opinion that there was no medical indication for a lower bunk requirement or any type of work restrictions. While the Claimant's medical problems did consist of asthma, feet calluses, minor injuries resulting from falling and, self-inflicted stab wounds, no arthritis or any spinal abnormality could be detected in any of the tests or x-rays. It was Dr. Alves opinion that Claimant was a bit of a malingerer and simply did not want to work, preferring a light duty work schedule and the benefits of a lower bunk.

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 York, 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 York, 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, lv denied 40 NY2d 804).

Here, Claimant's allegations center on the State's failure to properly treat his spinal condition by assigning him to an upper bunk instead of a lower bunk or a light work duty. In this Court's view, 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. (
Scott v Uljanov, 74 NY2d 673; Duffen v State of New York, 245 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 own subjective testimony and opinion as to his condition and what medical treatment should have been provided by the Facility. Quite simply, in the absence of any testimony from a medical expert that Claimant suffered from a spinal condition and that the Facility's medical treatment and care of Claimant 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. Alves to be most credible in his assessment that Claimant did not suffer from arthritis or any spinal abnormality in the first instance. The Court finds that Claimant received the appropriate type of treatment, including assignment to an upper bunk, and that the failure to obtain additional medical records was in no way related to any medical malpractice on the part of the Facility in view of its own testing.

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 caregivers could be construed as negligent.
For the reasons stated above, Claim No. 99927 is hereby DISMISSED.

Any and all motions on which the Court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined, are hereby denied.


August 12, 2002
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the Court's trial notes.