Claimant, Alvin D. Stribling, a
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".
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
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
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.
, 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,
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
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.