New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

KNIGHTS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-009-125, Claim No. 99939


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
BY: Michael R. O'Neill, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 15, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This claim arose on May 14, 1998, when claimant was injured when he was struck by a support beam while he was incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility. The trial of this claim was bifurcated, and in a decision dated December 4, 2002, this Court determined that the State of New York was 100% liable for the injuries sustained by claimant (
Knights v State of New York, Ct Cl, December 4, 2002, Midey, J., Claim No. 99939 [2002-009-109]).[1]
A trial on the issue of damages was held on July 7, 2003, at which claimant testified as to his injuries. Additionally, the testimony of Daniel L. Carr, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon who conducted an independent medical examination of claimant, was taken by videotape and was received into evidence, as well as the videotaped testimony of Kenneth W. Reagles, Ph.D., a vocational rehabilitation specialist.

Claimant was injured on May 14, 1998 while he was working as an inmate construction worker at Auburn Correctional Facility. He was working with another inmate in removing cinder blocks located above a doorway in a concrete block building under construction at the facility when a piece of angle iron fell from the top of the doorway, striking claimant on his back.

Claimant was taken to Auburn Memorial Hospital where he received treatment for his back injury. Shortly thereafter, claimant also began to experience pain in his left shoulder, which he also contends was caused by the accident on May 14, 1998. Claimant then undertook physical therapy for his shoulder injury, and received several injections of medication. This course of treatment continued for approximately four years while Mr. Knights was incarcerated. Eventually, Mr. Knights underwent shoulder surgery in April, 2002, in which claimant's acromion was grinded back so that the shoulder joint could be visualized, which was then decompressed and surgically repaired.

Mr. Knights testified that despite the surgery, he continues to experience pain in his left shoulder, and he has been advised that a second surgery will be required. He further testified that he still has difficulty and experiences pain when he attempts to raise his arm, and that he is restricted from doing any lifting or overhead work. Claimant testified that he has difficulty sleeping, and that he is unable to engage in physical activities such as jogging, weight-lifting, or basketball due to his injuries. He indicated that he has taken numerous medications over time to reduce his pain.

As previously stated, Dr. Carr, although he did not medically treat claimant, provided testimony after performing an independent medical examination of claimant. He testified that claimant had suffered a severe lumbar contusion as a result of being struck by the falling angle iron, but that there was no objective evidence that claimant suffered any structural back injury, and he did not find any residual disability to claimant's lower back resulting from this accident.

With regard to claimant's shoulder injury, Dr. Carr testified that claimant has suffered a tear of his rotator cuff in his left shoulder. He concluded that it is probable that such tear occurred as a result of the accident, and he therefore attributed the rotator cuff tear to this accident when evaluating claimant's injuries. Dr. Carr indicated that claimant did have pre-existing AC joint arthritis, resulting in a predisposition to impingement.

Dr. Carr concurred with claimant's testimony that a second operation would be necessary, which would remove a piece of bone in the left shoulder. Assuming that claimant does have this second operation, Dr. Carr opined that claimant could experience possible improvement to his left shoulder. However, even with this surgery, claimant would still be left with a mild impairment to the left shoulder area, and that he would continue to have a difficult time with any overhead lifting. Dr. Carr also stated that if claimant was to undergo the second surgical procedure, such procedure would also entail both pre and post-operative medical visits and examinations, as well as post-surgery physical therapy and the necessity of prescription medications.

Dr. Carr therefore concluded that claimant can expect to experience permanent pain in his left shoulder area, whether or not he undergoes the recommended surgery, and that such pain is causally related to the accident which formed the basis of this claim.

Dr. Kenneth Reagles, claimant's vocational rehabilitation specialist, testified with regard to claimant's future lost wages and the cost of future health related services. Since claimant was incarcerated at the time he suffered his injuries, and remained incarcerated up to and through the date of the damages trial, he has not made a claim for any past lost wages or past medical expenses. Dr. Reagles, in making his computations with regard to the issue of future lost wages, assumed that claimant would be released on parole in July, 2007, thereby making him eligible to return to the workforce at that time. Utilizing this assumption, Dr. Reagles determined that claimant would be 59 years of age upon his release, with 5.5 years of remaining work-life expectancy.[2]
Based upon claimant's limited education, his incarceration and age, as well as the economic climate, Dr. Reagles determined that claimant would be limited to construction-type employment, and that he would be unable to engage in such work because of his permanent shoulder injury. He therefore concluded that claimant had no residual earning capacity and calculated his total potential lost wages on this basis.
However, based on the testimony presented, it was claimant's expectation, and his expectation only, that he will be released on parole on July, 2007, when he first becomes eligible. However, the granting of parole is discretionary, with no guarantee that an inmate will be considered for parole at any particular time (
Matter of Russo v New York State Board of Parole, 50 NY2d 69). The Board of Parole may consider a variety of factors, including the severity of the crime for which the inmate is incarcerated, in deciding whether to grant or deny parole (Matter of Morales v Travis, 260 AD2d 710). Accordingly, the Court finds that the calculations of lost wages made by Dr. Reagles are based upon a flawed assumption, and that such calculations cannot be credited. Furthermore, since there is no guarantee that claimant will be approved for parole at anytime during his remaining years of work-life expectancy, the Court finds that any determination of lost future wages is highly speculative and incapable of firm calculation. The Court is not convinced that even if healthy, claimant would be able to find suitable employment in the construction field at his age upon any such release. The Court therefore finds that claimant is not entitled to any award for future lost wages.
Dr. Reagles also testified as to the cost of future health related services expected to be borne by claimant. Again, this analysis is complicated by the fact that the conclusions arrived at by Dr. Reagles were based on an assumption that claimant would be released from incarceration in July, 2007. Dr. Reagles determined that claimant has a present life expectancy from July, 2007 of 17.1 years (see Exhibit 6, transcript of the trial testimony of Kenneth W. Reagles, Ph.D., page 35) and that from that date, claimant would be responsible for the cost of medical visits (both orthopedic and family practice), radiology services, and medications, for the rest of his life. Dr. Reagles also factored in the cost of the recommended second surgery on claimant's left shoulder, as well as post-operative physical therapy.

Under cross-examination, Dr. Reagles admitted that the second surgery and resulting physical therapy might by performed while claimant was still incarcerated. Additionally, he stated that his calculations for the cost of future health services such as radiology studies included expenses not only for claimant's shoulder injury, but also for medical services related to claimant's back, unrelated to the injury suffered by him in this accident.

The Court therefore finds that the computations made by Dr. Reagles include certain medical expenses factored into his equation which could very possibly be performed at no cost to claimant while he remains incarcerated. Furthermore, since the Court has previously determined that claimant cannot be certain that he will be released on parole in July, 2007, the total expenses for future medical care set forth by Dr. Reagles are overstated. Unlike his claim for lost future wages, however, it is certainly foreseeable that claimant will be released from custody at some future, undetermined point in time, when he will have to assume responsibility for payment of health related services. The Court therefore awards claimant the sum of $20,000.00 for such future medical costs. As for pain and suffering, and based upon the testimony and entire trial record, the Court finds that an award should be made to claimant for the pain and suffering endured by him with regard to both his back and left shoulder injury. Based upon the testimony of Dr. Carr, the Court concludes that claimant has not suffered any permanent residual disability to his lower back resulting from this accident, but that he has suffered a permanent, yet mild, impairment to his left shoulder.

Therefore, the Court finds that claimant is entitled to be awarded damages as follows:
Past Pain and Suffering
Future Pain and Suffering
Future Loss of Earnings
Future Health Related Services
Total Amount Awarded

The amount awarded herein shall carry interest at the rate of 9% per year from the date of the determination of liability on December 4, 2002 (see,
Dingle v Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 85 NY2d 657; Love v State of New York, 78 NY2d 540).
The Clerk is directed to hold judgment in abeyance until the Court has had an opportunity to review any submissions by the defendant with respect to prior Orders of this Court, pertaining to reimbursement of the costs for transporting claimant to a medical examination and to Court for trial. Such submissions are to be submitted to the Court within 30 days of the filing date of this Decision. If no submissions are made, the Clerk is directed to then enter judgment on this Decision.


December 15, 2003
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] Unpublished decisions and selected orders of the Court of Claims are available via the Internet at
[2] Claimant was born on July 24, 1947. Therefore, claimant would be fast approaching his 60th birthday, if not already passing it, if he were released on parole in July, 2007, with a corresponding decrease in his work-life expectancy.