New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SNEED v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-013-503, Claim Nos. 99465, 99776-A


Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
99465, 99776-A
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: REYNOLDS E. HAHN, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 24, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant alleges that on September 5, 1998, he was injured while attempting to catch a pass during a game of touch football at the Orleans Correctional Facility (Orleans) where he was incarcerated.[1]
According to Claimant, the football struck the little finger on his right hand. He reported the injury immediately to the correction officer on duty and was sent to the infirmary. The staff at the infirmary examined Claimant and noted that his finger was swollen, but could be bent. The finger was splinted and Claimant was instructed to apply ice 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. He was given Ibuprofen for pain and to reduce the swelling. Claimant returned to the infirmary five days later complaining of pain. At that time, his finger was ecchymotic (purplish) with limited range of motion. He was referred to the doctor on duty who ordered x-rays of the finger. He was transported that same day to the Medina Memorial Hospital for the x-rays, which revealed an oblique fracture involving the shaft of the proximal phalanx of the fifth digit. According to the x-ray report, the fracture fragments were in good position (see Report of Inmates Injury, Exhibit 1).
Before leaving Medina Memorial Hospital, Claimant's fifth finger was re-splinted and "buddy taped" to the fourth finger. He was advised to remove the splint only to shower. Claimant was seen at the Medina Memorial Hospital for a follow-up visit on September 16, 1998. Again, it was noted that the fracture was in good alignment. He was re-splinted, told to follow the protocol given on September 10 and advised to be seen again in three weeks.

Claimant was not seen or treated again, however, until October 26, 1998, and then on November 16, 1998, both times at the Orleans infirmary. During the latter visit, it was noted for the first time that Claimant was unable to bend his finger (Exhibit 1).

Another x-ray was ordered on December 1, 1998, and taken on December 9, 1998. The x-ray report noted that the fracture was minimally displaced with some evidence of internal callus formation, but no significant evidence of external callus formation (Exhibit 2). During this time, Claimant was participating in an occupational therapy program conducted at Attica Correctional Facility. On February 3, 1999, upon returning from a therapy session, Claimant was referred to a doctor for a consultation which occurred on February 22, 1999. Unfortunately, it is difficult to read the doctor's notes, but it appears that it was recommended that Claimant be added to the hand clinic held at Wende Correctional Facility (Exhibit 2).

On March 12, 1999, Claimant was seen by Dr. Soliman, who noted that Claimant had "developed increasing stiffness at the PIP and DIP joint " and that he was "unable to make a satisfactory fist." Dr. Soliman recommended physical therapy twice a week to improve range of motion (Exhibit 2, p. 5). On April 30, 1999, Claimant was complaining of pain and decreased range of motion. A PIP splint was constructed and Claimant was given exercises to perform. Claimant next saw Dr. Soliman on May 28, 1999. On clinical examination, he noted that the fracture had healed with good alignment. He further noted that the Claimant could make a satisfactory fist, but that there was a small amount of stiffness at the PIP and DIP joints. He discontinued the use of a splint and recommended a range of motion rehabilitative program (Exhibit 2, p. 6). Finally, on July 9, 1999, the plan was to refer Claimant to a hand specialist because he had not benefitted from either occupational or physical therapy (Exhibit 2, p. 10). This was the last notation in the medical records provided to the Court.

Claimant testified at trial that he was unable to completely bend his finger or make a satisfactory fist. Upon being released from prison, however, Claimant was able to secure a job as a pipe insulator with the Eastman Kodak Company.

At the conclusion of Claimant's testimony, Claimant rested and the State moved to dismiss the claim for failure to prove a prima facie case of medical negligence or medical malpractice with respect to the State's care and treatment of the Claimant. Decision on the State's motion was reserved at trial.

It is well settled that the State has a duty to provide its inmate population with adequate medical care (
Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7). Whether the claim is couched in terms of negligence or medical malpractice, Claimant has the burden of proof. In a medical malpractice action, Claimant has the burden of proving that the medical provider deviated from accepted standards of medical care and must prove a nexus between the deviation and the injury claimed (Rossi v Arnot Ogden Med. Ctr., 268 AD2d 916, lv denied 95 NY2d 751; Fridovich v David, 188 AD2d 984; Macey v Hassam, 97 AD2d 919). To make a prima facie case of medical malpractice, Claimant is required to present expert medical testimony (Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653, lv denied 91 NY2d 810). In a medical negligence case, however, the alleged negligent acts do not involve a matter of medical science, are readily determinable by the trier of fact based on common knowledge, and no expert medical testimony is required (Matter of Barresi v State of New York, 232 AD2d 962).
The thrust of Claimant's trial testimony seemed to be that the staff of the Orleans Correctional Facility should have ordered an x-ray of his finger when he first appeared at the infirmary on September 5, 1998 following his football injury. Claimant's medical records (Exhibits 1 and 2) contained several notations that Claimant had not been taken to the hospital for x-rays until five days after the accident. These same records revealed, however, that the same treatment,
i.e., splinting, was continued by the hospital even after x-rays were taken and the fracture was discovered. On this record and Claimant's testimony alone, I cannot conclude that the treatment provided by the infirmary constituted medical negligence or malpractice. The resolution of this issue necessarily depends on whether the infirmary's treatment deviated from acceptable standards of care and whether the five-day delay in discovering the fracture prevented the finger from healing faster and/or more satisfactorily. This issue is clearly outside the common knowledge of this Court. Thus, whether Claimant's claim is couched in negligence or malpractice terms, expert medical testimony was necessary to sustain a recovery (Duffen v State of New York, supra; Wells v State of New York, 228 AD2d 581). Accordingly, I must conclude that Claimant failed to meet his burden of proving a prima facie case and grant the State's motion to dismiss raised at the conclusion of Claimant's proof.
All other motions upon which decision was reserved at trial are now denied as moot in light of this decision.


February 24, 2004
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

  1. [1]Claimant filed two separate claims, each arising out of the same incident. At trial I consolidated these claims, sua sponte, without objection from either party for ease of disposition.