Claimant brought this action seeking damages from the State for failing to
provide the necessary assistance to Claimant after he had undergone general
anesthesia on January 13, 1999. Claimant, an inmate, was transported to State
University of New York Medical Center, University Hospital (hereinafter
University Hospital), a State-owned facility, for a medical procedure related to
his kidney stones on the morning of January 13. Claimant testified he was given
general anesthesia for the surgery. After the surgery, Claimant had lunch and
was discharged. He testified he was walking up a staircase with Correction
Officer (hereinafter C.O.) Eric Johnson when he felt lightheaded. His hands
were cuffed and he testified that he had leg irons on as he proceeded up the
stairs. Claimant tried to hold onto the railing as he felt dizzy, but could not
and fell backwards. C.O. Johnson tried to grab Claimant's jacket but was too
late. Claimant fell down numerous stairs backwards. He was taken to the
Emergency Room where he was treated for his complaints of pain then he returned
to the correctional facility the same day. His ribs hurt whenever he coughed or
sneezed for weeks after his fall. He still has low-back pain on occasion.
C.O. Eric Johnson testified that he witnessed Claimant's fall. He had been a
transport officer for the Department of Correctional Services (hereinafter DOCS)
since 1992, and would transport inmates to University Hospital two to four times
per week. He testified that inmates entered and exited University Hospital
through a separate entrance. Inside the doors was a small landing with a
security monitor. Inmates were escorted down 8 to 12 stairs to a security room
with a secure holding area for inmates to wait. C. O. Johnson recalled on
January 13, after Claimant's surgery, Claimant's hands were cuffed and he was
placed in a wheelchair and taken from the fifth floor to the security room on
the first floor. Claimant, in contrast, recalled walking the entire way. The
decision to discharge Claimant was made by the medical staff.
Claimant was handcuffed pursuant to a DOCS directive requiring inmates be
secured during transport. Claimant's hands were cuffed with a black box
allowing only about six inches of movement. C.O. Johnson said that the
transport officers have some discretion in how they secure inmates, especially
after medical treatment. He recalled Claimant having handcuffs only. On
rebuttal, Claimant testified he also had on leg irons. C.O. Johnson said after
an inmate has general anesthesia, they usually do not use leg irons because the
inmates may be "groggy"
and have to walk upstairs to exit the hospital.
C. O. Johnson testified that before Claimant fell, he was walking up the stairs
to leave. C. O. Johnson said he walked behind Claimant on the right side up
the stairs but moved ahead of him when they reached the top landing to use the
intercom. He said Claimant was using the handrail. He testified he saw
Claimant start to waiver and tried to grab his coat but could not reach him in
time and Claimant fell. Claimant testified he could not maintain his grip on
the handrail because the handcuffs limited his movement and reach.
The State moved to dismiss the claim on the basis that this case sounds in
medical malpractice. The State argues the decision to release Claimant was made
by the medical staff and to establish that Claimant was not sufficiently
recovered to leave was a medical determination and that requires expert medical
testimony to prove negligence. Also, the State said that there was no medical
proof that the damages were the result of his fall. Claimant responded that the
back and rib pain after his fall was different from the kidney stone pain, and
that a second officer went to make a phone call while C.O. Johnson took him out.
This case can be divided into two parts. First, whether Claimant was well
enough after the administration of anesthesia to be discharged is, as Defendant
argues, a medical determination intricately related to the medical treatment
Claimant received (
see Bleiler v Bodnar,
65 NY2d 65; Berger v State of New York,
AD2d 713, 717). To the extent Claimant's claim takes issue with the decision to
discharge him, it sounds in medical malpractice and requires expert testimony to
establish that he had not sufficiently recovered from the anesthesia for the
medical staff to have discharged him. Since Claimant presented no expert
testimony, any portion of the claim taking issue with the timing of his
discharge must fail.
To the extent Claimant's claim seeks damages for the ordinary negligence of the
correction officers in transporting or escorting Claimant back to the
correctional facility van after his surgery, the State has a duty to take every
reasonable precaution to protect inmates from injury (
Mochen v State of New York,
57 AD2d 719). The State is not an insurer of
the safety of prison inmates (Preston v State of New York,
59 NY2d 997).
To establish liability, there must be evidence that an inmate's injury could
have been reasonably foreseen and the State failed to prevent it (Sanchez v
State of New York,
99 NY2d 247, 252; Spadaro v State of New York,
Misc 2d, 489, affd
28 AD2d 604; Timmons v State of New York,
unpublished decision, Ct Cl, Claim No. 94084, filed February 18, 1999,
In assessing the conflicting testimony, the Court credits C.O. Johnson's memory
of the events. The Court finds after Claimant's surgery, he was transported in
a wheelchair from the fifth
floor to the first floor security area. No leg irons were used on Claimant at
that time. In
C. O. Johnson's discretion, he did not use the leg irons on
Claimant because he knew that after anesthesia, an inmate could be "groggy."
His awareness of the risk of Claimant falling is further evident by his
testimony that he walked behind Claimant to the top of the stairs and then told
him to hold onto the handrail. His concern and awareness of the potential for
Claimant falling required reasonable precautionary measures to prevent this
foreseeable occurrence. Use of the other transport officer or C. O. Johnson's
placement of Claimant on the landing in front of him could have prevented
Claimant's tumble down the stairs. Claimant satisfactorily established that he
suffered pain attributable to his fall which was different than the pain
associated with his kidney stones.
Claimant is hereby awarded the sum of FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($500.00), with
interest from January 13, 1999 until July 13, 1999, and from May 30, 2000, to
the date of this Decision and thereafter to the date of entry of judgment.
To the extent Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to
Court of Claims Act §11-a(2).
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.