New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BELL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-031-520, Claim No. 109378


Claimant failed to demonstrate that State was negligent in providing adequate medical care. Claim 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:
New York State Attorney General
BY: TIMOTHY P. MULVEY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 26, 2006

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Sanford Bell, filed Claim No. 109378 on May 20, 2004, alleging that he was assaulted by another inmate at Five Points Correctional Facility on December 12, 2003. The claim also alleges causes of action for medical malpractice and medical negligence relating to the medical care Claimant received after the assault. Claimant’s cause of action relating to the assault itself was dismissed by Decision and Order filed June 30, 2006. I held the trial of this claim at Auburn Correctional Facility on July 27, 2006.
Claimant testified that during the December 12, 2003 assault upon him, he suffered a fracture of his right ankle. He was seen by a nurse, Nurse Goon, at the facility’s medical center approximately two hours after the incident. According to Claimant, he was told that he had sprained his ankle, was given ibuprofen for his pain and sent back to his cell. Approximately six hours later, Claimant again went to the facility’s medical center due to the severe pain he felt in his ankle. He saw a different nurse this time, but was again told that he had suffered only a sprain and was sent back to his cell.
It was not until three days after the incident, December 15, 2003, that x-rays of Claimant’s ankle were taken. According to Claimant’s Ambulatory Health Record (Exhibit 1), he was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of his distal fibula. He was placed in a cast on December 18, 2003, six days after the incident. Claimant maintains that the six day delay in diagnosing and casting his ankle left him with permanent injuries. He testified that he walks with a cane and can barely put weight on his right ankle. He also stated that, although he takes pain medication approximately three times a day, he is in almost constant pain.
Claimant called Nurse Goon, a registered nurse with 27 years of experience, to testify concerning the treatment Claimant received for his injuries. According to Nurse Goon, when Claimant was initially treated after the assault, he was walking on his ankle and had full range of motion. Her determination at the time was that Claimant’s injuries were consistent with a sprain and that was how he was treated.
At the close of Claimant’s proof, Defendant moved for dismissal of the claim due to Claimant’s failure to present expert testimony establishing that the treatment Claimant received deviated from community standards. Defendant also argued that Claimant had failed to present any proof, expert or otherwise, that the alleged delay in treatment exacerbated or contributed to the severity of his injury. I reserved decision on Defendant’s motion.
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). The State may be cast in liability for injuries that result because its physicians fail to use ordinary and reasonable care or to exercise their best judgment in applying the knowledge and skill ordinarily possessed by practitioners in the field (Hale v State of New York, 53 AD2d 1025, lv denied 40 NY2d 804).
To establish a prima facie case of liability in a medical malpractice action, a claimant must prove: 1) the standard of care in the locality where the treatment occurred; 2) that the defendant breached that standard of care; and 3) that the breach of the standard was the proximate cause of injury (Berger v Becker, 272 AD2d 565 ). To sustain this burden, a Claimant must present expert testimony that the defendant's conduct constituted a deviation from the requisite standard of care (Berger v Becker, supra; Koehler v Schwartz, 48 NY2d 807 [Expert testimony is necessary. . . unless the matter is one which is within the experience and observation of the ordinary juror]). Only expert medical proof can establish the necessary legal causation required to impose liability and demonstrate that there was a deviation from good and accepted standards of medical care (see Rossi v Arnot Ogden Med. Ctr., 268 AD2d 916; Spicer v Community Family Planning Council Health Ctr., 272 AD2d 317; Lyons v McCauley, 252 AD2d 516, lv denied 92 NY2d 814). Claimant’s failure to present expert medical testimony that the care he received deviated from accepted standards of medical care precludes a ruling in his favor on a theory of medical malpractice.
A cause of action sounding in medical negligence, in essence, alleges negligent omissions or commissions by State caregivers which can be readily determined without the necessity of expert testimony. However, this theory is limited to “those cases where the alleged negligent act may be readily determined by the trier of the facts based on common knowledge” (Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, 114 AD2d 254, 256). Such cases have involved scalding a patient with a hot water bottle (Phillips v Buffalo General Hospital, 239 NY 188), leaving an electric light bulb under the sheets (Dillon v Rockaway Beach Hospital, 284 NY 176), leaving a postoperative patient unattended in a bathroom (Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, supra), and other similar circumstances.
In this action, whether or not Defendant made an adequate and timely diagnosis of Claimant’s broken ankle, and whether or not his condition was made worse by the alleged delay in diagnosis are not matters which lie within the common knowledge of the trier of fact. Whether a claim is couched in terms of negligence or medical malpractice, if the issues involve conditions beyond the common knowledge of a fact finder, expert medical proof will be required to sustain a recovery (Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653).
For me to conclude that Defendant was negligent for not reaching this diagnosis earlier, or for not pursuing a different course of treatment, I would necessarily require expert input on the subject. Claimant's failure to present any expert medical proof tending to show that the State deviated from accepted medical standards in diagnosing and treating his broken ankle is fatal to this portion of his claim.
Consequently, Claimant has failed to establish a prima facie case of either negligence or medical malpractice. Accordingly, Defendant’s motion is granted and the claim is dismissed. All other motions on which I previously reserved decision are hereby denied.

September 26, 2006
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims