New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HENRY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-009-173, Claim No. 107581


In this claim, claimant sought damages for personal injuries when he fell down stairs of his dormitory at Oneida Correctional Facility. The claim was dismissed, based upon the Court’s finding that claimant failed to establish that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs.

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:
Attorney General
BY: G. Lawrence Dillon, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
May 10, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


In this claim, claimant alleges that on February 3, 2003, he injured his right foot when he fell down stairs of his dormitory building at Oneida Correctional Facility, where he was then incarcerated. This claim is based upon causes of action sounding in negligence and medical malpractice.

The trial of this claim was held on October 26, 2006. At the trial, claimant was the sole witness to testify on his behalf. The defendant called two witnesses, William Hulihan, Deputy Superintendent of Programs at Oneida Correctional Facility, and Deborah R. Trexler, a Registered Nurse at the facility.

According to his claim and testimony, on the morning of February 3, 2003, claimant was walking down the stairs from the third floor (where he was then housed) to the second floor of “20 building”[1] when his left leg gave out, causing him to fall down the stairs. As a result of the fall, claimant injured his right foot. Claimant went to the infirmary that morning, and his right foot was placed in an air-cast.

Claimant also testified that he had suffered a gunshot injury prior to this accident[2], and due to the lack of muscle in his left thigh, his leg would often give out on him. It is claimant’s contention that he should not have been required to climb up or down stairs, and that he should have been housed in a dorm or facility without stairs. He testified that he had voiced these concerns to facility officials at the time he was transferred to Oneida Correctional Facility, but that nothing had been done in connection with his complaints.

According to the nursing assessment which was conducted upon claimant’s transfer to Oneida Correctional Facility in October, 2002 (see Exhibit E), claimant at that time did not have any current healthcare complaints, nor was he under treatment for any healthcare problem, upon his arrival at Oneida. It was determined that he did not require any health referral, emergency health referral, or infirmary care at that time, and he was therefore placed into general population.

Subsequently, however, claimant made a “request for reasonable accommodations” (see Exhibit 14) in which claimant requested a transfer to a “flat dorm or flat facility with no stairs.” This request was dated January 22, 2003, preceding claimant’s fall on February 3, 2003. Deputy Superintendent Hulihan testified that his responsibilities included the handling of transfers and requests for reasonable accommodations. According to Mr. Hulihan, based upon the number of cases, a lengthy process is involved when such a request is made, before any determination can be forthcoming.

In this particular matter, Mr. Hulihan testified that within one week after the request was made, it was approved by the medical department at the facility, and was then approved by Peter Behrle, the Deputy Superintendent of Administration, who forwarded the approved request to the Central Office of the Department of Correctional Services on January 29, 2003 (see Exhibit A). Obviously, after this request was forwarded by Mr. Behrle, and prior to any approval, claimant fell on the stairway on February 3, 2003 and suffered his injury.

Apparently upon receiving a copy of Mr. Behrle’s correspondence, claimant had also requested “reasonable accommodations” before being transferred to a flat facility, by correspondence dated January 29, 2003 (see Exhibit I).

There is no question that as a landowner, the State is held to the same standard of care as any private landowner, and must therefore act as a reasonable person in maintaining its property in a reasonably safe condition (Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997). This standard of care applies to premises within prison facilities (Bowers v State of New York, 241 AD2d 760; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874). The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of its inmates, and negligence will not be inferred solely from an accident occurring therein (Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850; Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719).

In this case, claimant does not allege that the stairs in his dormitory building were in a defective or dangerous condition, nor was there any testimony to indicate that these stairs were dangerous. Rather, claimant contends that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, and failed to provide him with a flat dormitory or flat facility prior to this fall. In order to establish a cause of action for deliberate indifference, claimant must prove that a prison official knew of and disregarded a substantial risk to his health or safety (Tatta v State of New York, 19 AD3d 817).

From the testimony at trial, and the documentary evidence received into evidence, it appears to this Court that facility personnel acted properly in addressing the request for reasonable accommodations made by claimant on January 22, 2003. This request was evaluated and approved by both medical personnel and the Deputy Superintendent of Administration at the facility within one week’s time, and this approval was then forwarded to the Central Office for final approval exactly one week after the request had been made.

Aside from his own testimony, claimant did not introduce any evidence, or provide any expert testimony, that these actions were not appropriate or timely, or that they violated any administrative procedures or protocols. In other words, it appears to this Court that facility officials acted in a timely and reasonable manner in responding to the request made by claimant, and there is no indication whatsoever that these officials acted with any deliberate indifference to his medical needs. It is indeed unfortunate that claimant fell and was injured while his request for reasonable accommodations was pending. His fall, however, is not sufficient, in and of itself, to cast liability against the State without any showing of negligence on the part of facility officials.

In his claim, claimant also alleged that medical personnel at the facility unreasonably delayed providing proper diagnosis and treatment for the injury suffered in this fall.

It is well settled that the State owes a duty to its incarcerated citizens to provide them with reasonable and adequate medical care and treatment (Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, lv denied 76 NY2d 701). At trial, however, claimant presented absolutely no testimony or evidence to indicate that claimant had been denied medical treatment, or that he received improper medical treatment for the injuries suffered in this accident. In order to establish 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). At this trial, not only did claimant fail to present any expert medical testimony, he provided no testimony whatsoever with regard to his allegations of medical malpractice. Accordingly, any claim sounding in medical malpractice must also be dismissed.

Therefore, after carefully considering all of the testimony and documentary evidence, this Court finds that claimant has failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, any negligence and/or medical malpractice of the defendant. This claim must be, and hereby is, dismissed in its entirety.


May 10, 2007
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. Unless otherwise indicated, quoted material has been taken either from the Court’s trial notes or the filed claim.
[2]. According to his claim, this gunshot injury occurred in 1991.