New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-030-011, Claim No. 104505


Case Information

Claimant short name:
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Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
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Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
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Signature date:
April 13, 2004
White Plains

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See also (multicaptioned case)

Steve Williamson, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 104505 that Defendant's agents failed to provide him with adequate medical care while he was in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereafter DOCS) incarcerated at Downstate Correctional Facility (hereafter Downstate). Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on February 27, 2004.

Claimant testified that on January 29, 1998 he first entered Downstate and was tested for tuberculosis (TB). He advised medical personnel at that time that he had "tested positive for it in Florida and received treatment there for six months."[1]
Although he told medical personnel at Downstate that the Florida caregivers had said he shouldn't be required to be tested again because it would "come up positive," the Downstate employees said they "did not care, and that the State of New York. . . . [did] not have . . . [him] on record."
Claimant said that DOCS simply refused to accept that he had been tested and treated, and thus forced him, first at Downstate and later at Attica Correctional Facility, to suffer invasive testing for TB that would inevitably show positive. He said he suffers from headaches and nausea from the test. When he produced his medical records from Florida, he alleged DOCS medical personnel refused to take them, and he was threatened with disciplinary proceedings if he didn't subject himself to the test.

Claimant said he filed a grievance, and the records were accepted some time thereafter. He said that it is a DOCS policy that inmates who have tested positive previously may be exempt from further testing, yet he was forced to take the test for four (4) years because medical personnel would not accept his documentation. Because of this, he alleges, he suffered personal injury and was damaged in the amount of $15,000.00.

Claimant submitted in evidence part of his ambulatory health record (hereafter AHR) which includes the testing dates [Exhibit 1]; his medical records from Florida [Exhibit 2]; and a copy of the DOCS health services policy dated May 14, 2001 concerning tuberculosis [Exhibit 3].

On cross-examination, Claimant conceded that the last testing and treatment he had received for TB had been in 1992 as shown in the Florida records. Claimant reiterated that despite the six- year gap in time between the Florida testing and treatment, and his commitment to DOCS custody, he should not have been tested at all. Claimant also confirmed that when DOCS tested him, he tested negative three (3) times, and then tested positive the fourth time.

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

"It is fundamental law that the State has a duty to provide reasonable and adequate medical care to the inmates of its prisons," including proper diagnosis and treatment.
Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, 789 (3d Dept 1990), lv denied 76 NY2d 701 (1990).
In a medical malpractice claim, the Claimant has the burden of proof and must prove (1) a deviation or departure from accepted practice and (2) evidence that such deviation was the proximate cause of the injury or other damage. A cause of action is premised in medical malpractice when it is the medical treatment, or the lack of it, that is in issue. A Claimant must establish that the medical caregiver 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. The " ‘claimant must [demonstrate] . . . that the physician deviated from accepted medical practice and that the alleged deviation proximately caused his . . . injuries' (
Parker v State of New York , 242 AD2d 785, 786)." Auger v State of New York, 263 AD2d 929, 931 (3d Dept 1999). Without such medical proof, no viable claim giving rise to liability on the part of the State can be sustained. Hale v State of New York, 53 AD2d 1025 (4th Dept 1976), lv denied 40 NY2d 804 (1976). A medical expert's testimony is necessary to establish, at a minimum, the standard of care. Spensieri v Lasky, 94 NY2d 231 (1999).
If a claim can be read to allege simple negligence, or medical negligence, then the alleged negligent omissions or acts by the State's employees can be readily determined by a fact finder using common knowledge without the necessity of expert testimony.
Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, 114 AD2d 254, 256 (1st Dept 1986). Similarly, the State may be found liable for ministerial neglect if its employees fail to comply with an institution's own administrative procedures and protocols for dispensing medical care to inmates. Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7, 10 (2d Dept 1996).
In this case, only the testimony of the Claimant has been presented in support of any claim of malpractice. No competent medical evidence was presented, through a treating physician or an expert witness whose opinion was based upon the available medical records, to support the allegation of medical malpractice. There is no medical evidence on any medical issue and thus no proof that accepted standards of care were not met. Accordingly, any claim of medical malpractice must be dismissed.

Additionally, from this record there is no indication that the actions of medical caregivers amounted to simple negligence or ministerial neglect.
Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, supra; Kagan v State of New York, supra; cf. Jacaruso v State of New York, Claim No. 97721 (Lebous, J., filed September 9, 2002). The regulations concerning procedures for taking care of inmates afflicted with tuberculosis and other contagious diseases are clearly of an ameliorative nature, designed to assure the health of the inmates tested and treated as well as fellow inmates. It would belie common sense to assert that once tested and treated, an individual should never be tested again when such dangerous communicable diseases are involved. Whatever side effect may have been suffered - and Claimant mentioned only some nausea and a headache, assuming these were even related to testing for TB - is far outweighed by the beneficial effect of assuring the health of the prison population.
Once the Florida records were made part of the New York State records, a fact noted in the AHR supplied [
See Exhibit 1], medical personnel would then exercise whatever discretion is appropriate in the treatment of the patient who was last tested in 1992, and apparently did so. There has been no showing of any harm related to discretionary determinations made by medical caregivers. Therefore, to the extent the claim can be read to assert such theories, any cause of action for negligence or ministerial neglect is also dismissed.
Claimant has failed to establish his claim by a preponderance of the credible evidence and therefore Claim Number 104505 is dismissed in its entirety.

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

April 13, 2004
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.