New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SOW v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-009-135, Claim No. 102262


Claimant's pro se action for untimely and improper medical treatment was 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:
Attorney General
BY: G. Lawrence Dillon, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 13, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, an inmate appearing
pro se, seeks damages for personal injuries allegedly suffered by him when he fell from an upper bunk while incarcerated at Mid-State Correctional Facility (Mid-State). Claimant further alleges that the State failed to provide him with proper and timely medical treatment for the injuries suffered by him in this fall. The trial of this claim was held on August 12, 2004 at Marcy Correctional Facility.
As set forth in his claim and his trial testimony, on December 10, 1999, medical staff at Mid-State placed a cast on claimant's left hand and arm. Because of the casting, on December 13, 1999, claimant was issued a permit from the medical department at Mid-State assigning him to a bottom bunk. Claimant testified, however, that the officer on duty at his housing unit refused to make any changes in the bed assignments, and that on December 14, 1999, at approximately 11:30 a.m., he fell from his assigned top bunk, injuring his lower back. He testified that he was not moved to a bottom bunk until after this fall occurred.

Correction Officer Scabo was the only witness to testify on behalf of the State. Officer Scabo testified that he was the housing officer on duty in claimant's housing unit at the time that claimant allegedly fell. During his testimony, Officer Scabo referred to entries made by him in the housing officer's log book (see Defendant's Exhibit A). These entries indicate that on December 14, 1999, at 8:00 a.m., claimant was moved from a top bunk to a bottom bunk, and inmate Reid was switched from the bottom bunk to the top bunk. The notations further indicate that claimant advised Officer Scabo that he fell from his top bunk at 11:20 a.m. that morning, and that he was sent to the medical unit at that time.

According to Officer Scabo, when a housing officer is presented with a medical excuse assigning an inmate to a bottom bunk, such inmate is moved immediately, and his notes reflect that claimant was moved from an upper bunk to a bottom bunk prior to his alleged fall from a top bunk.
The State is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its correctional facilities from foreseeable risk of harm (Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562). The State is not, however, an insurer of the safety of its inmates, and negligence cannot be presumed from the happening of an accident (Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842; Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711; Casella v State of New York, 121 AD2d 495).
In this case, claimant alleges that the State failed to timely move him from a top bunk to a bottom bunk, and, as a result of this delay, he fell from his top bunk and suffered injuries. The testimony of Correction Officer Scabo, buttressed by entries contained in the housing officer's logbook, establishes, to the satisfaction of this Court, that claimant had in fact been moved from a top bunk to the bottom bunk several hours before his fall. Since claimant, at the time of his fall, was not authorized to be in a top bunk, the State cannot be charged with negligence as a result of his fall. It appears, from the entries made in the logbook, that the State followed proper procedures in transferring claimant from his top bunk to the bottom bunk prior to his accident.

After his injury, claimant was taken to the medical department for evaluation and treatment, and made several subsequent visits to sick call for treatment. Eventually, claimant was referred to an orthopedic specialist for treatment and evaluation. Claimant alleges that the State did not provide him with adequate and timely medical care, since a prison doctor did not immediately examine him following this fall, and he was not given an x-ray of his injuries until approximately one month after his fall.

It is well settled that the State has a duty to provide reasonable and adequate medical care to the inmates of its correctional facilities (
Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, lv denied 76 NY2d 701). If the alleged negligent act or omission is readily determinable by the trier of fact based upon common knowledge, the appropriate theory of recovery is negligence (Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, 114 AD2d 254). However, if a patient's treatment, or lack thereof, is in controversy, a claim 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). Whether a claim is couched in terms of negligence or medical malpractice, expert medical proof will be required if the issues involve conditions beyond the common knowledge of a fact finder (Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653, lv denied 91 NY2d 810).
In this case, claimant provided the Court with copies of his medical records (see Claimant's Exhibit 2), which establish in detail the medical treatment that was provided to claimant for his back pain starting in April, 2000. Such records are sufficient to define the treatment which was provided. Without testimony from a medical expert, however, such records, by themselves, are insufficient to establish that such medical treatment was inadequate, improper, or untimely. In the absence of any testimony from a medical expert, the Court cannot find that the treatment provided claimant was inadequate or untimely.

Accordingly, the Court must find and conclude that claimant has failed to establish either aspect of his claim by a preponderance of the credible evidence. This claim must therefore be dismissed.


December 13, 2004
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims