New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WIGFALL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-037-506, Claim No. 106859


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:
Joseph Wigfall, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
New York State Attorney General
By: Joseph F. Romani, Esq.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
May 17, 2006

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Joseph Wigfall, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 106859 that officials at Elmira Correctional Facility (Elmira) committed, among other things, negligence and/or medical negligence by prohibiting him from wearing dark tinted sunglasses indoors while he was in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) despite his possession of a facility permit allowing him to do so. Trial of the matter was held at Elmira on March 29, 2006.
Specifically, the claim alleges and Claimant testified that beginning on January 30, 2002, officials at Elmira questioned his right to wear sunglasses indoors and failed or refused to acknowledge that he had been given written permission to wear the glasses by a facility medical provider. After writing letters of complaint to facility administrators and filing grievances, Claimant asserts that the matter was resolved in his favor approximately two months later when he was issued a new permit to wear sunglasses indoors and outdoors (see Claim Exhibits A & D). He claims that in the interim this circumstance caused him to suffer headaches and mental anguish unnecessarily.
Based upon Claimant’s testimony and documentary evidence (Claimant’s Exhibits 7 & 8), it appears that he had been issued medical permits to wear sunglasses indoors at other correctional facilities but it is not clear whether there was a permit in effect for Elmira in January, 2002. In any event, a medical permit was issued at Elmira authorizing Claimant to wear sunglasses indoors beginning April 6, 2002 (Claim Exhibit B).
At the conclusion of Claimant’s testimony, the State moved to dismiss any claim that could be construed as sounding in negligence or medical negligence on the grounds that Claimant had failed to establish a prima facie case, and that there was no proof that any adverse effect was caused by any negligence on the part of the State. Decision on this motion was reserved at trial.
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 [1990], lv denied 76 NY2d 701 [1990]). If this 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 [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 [1996]).
In this case, only the testimony of the Claimant has been presented in support of any claim of medical negligence and 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). Whether, and to what degree, earlier use of sunglasses indoors might have alleviated some of Claimant’s pain or discomfort is not discernable on this record. This is not a case where it can be readily determined without expert testimony what type of care this Claimant should have received, and whether any alleged delay in the use or application of sunglasses, even in contravention of administrative protocols, caused damage which would not otherwise have been occasioned by his overall medical condition. In any event, there is no proof that DOCS failed to follow its protocols.
It is unclear from the facility records submitted by Claimant whether there was a permit to wear sunglasses indoors at Elmira in January of 2002. These records do show that Claimant’s complaint regarding the use of sunglasses indoors was acted upon promptly by a variety of personnel and they do not show that the denial of use deviated from some measurable standard of care, and that any deviation therefrom caused this Claimant actionable injury. It cannot be said that “but for” the Defendant’s actions, or its failure to act, Claimant’s alleged physical infirmities could have been avoided or alleviated.
Accordingly, Defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to establish a prima facie case, upon which decision was reserved, is hereby granted, and Claim Number 106859 is dismissed in its entirety.

May 17, 2006
Buffalo, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims