New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CASEY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-028-004, Claim No. 106822


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:
ERIC CASEY, pro se
Defendant’s attorney:
BY: Michael Rizzo, Esq.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 26, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This is an action alleging that officials and medical staff at Clinton Correctional Facility failed in their duty to provide protection to Claimant, an inmate in that facility, and to provide him with appropriate medical treatment, specifically appropriate treatment for a mental condition.
At trial, Claimant testified that on August 16, 2002, he told the facility nurse who was making medicine rounds, “I intend to hurt myself.” He explained that he was very stressed at the time. He was immediately taken to a mental health cell for observation where staff members would check on him every 15 minutes. On August 20, he spoke with the psychiatrist, Dr. Melendez, but according to Claimant, the doctor asked only why he hadn’t been eating properly. Claimant informed him that he was “stressed out.” He was released from the observation cell because it was concluded that he was participating in a hunger strike. On August 21, Claimant cut himself on the leg using a can top. The laceration required stitches and hospitalization. He was then returned to the mental health observation cell, but was discharged the following day after he was seen by a doctor.
On August 26, Claimant again warned that he was going to harm himself, this time speaking to a correction officer. The officer took him to the satellite mental health unit to talk with staff there. When Claimant again stated that he wanted to hurt himself, he was returned to the mental health observation cell. As before, the following day Claimant was asked only why he hadn’t been eating, although on this occasion he had had a can of Ensure. He was discharged from the mental health unit on August 28, and the following day he once again cut himself, this time on the inner thigh, with a can top.
On cross-examination, Claimant acknowledged that he had been seen by the facility psychiatrist on August 21, August 23, August 27, August 30, September 3 and September 4. He also conceded that he saw a social worker during the period from August 16 to August 30.
Testifying for Defendant was Maureen Bosco, who holds a Master’s in Social Work and has been Unit Chief at Clinton’s mental health unit since 2003. She stated that standard procedure called for any inmate who threatens to hurt himself to be placed in the observation cell, and only she or one of the psychiatrists could order the inmate’s release. Qualified as an expert, Ms. Bosco agreed that if Claimant had not been asked if he intended to hurt himself, that would constitute a deviation from good psychiatric practice.
She noted, however, that the medical record (Exhibit 1) for August 20 indicates that Claimant denied any suicidal ideas, from which it can be inferred that he was asked if he intended to harm himself.
The State has an obligation to provide ordinary and appropriate medical treatment to inmates in its institutions (Gordon v City of New York, 120 AD2d 562 [2d Dept 1986], affd 70 NY2d 839 [1987]) and to make proper diagnosis and treatment (id.; Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788 [3d Dept 1990], lv denied 76 NY2d 701). When, as here, there are allegations of malpractice involving patient treatment, three component duties are owed by the physician to the patient: (1) the duty to possess the requisite knowledge and skill such as is possessed by the average member of the medical profession; (2) a duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in the application of professional knowledge and skill; and (3) the duty to use his or her best judgment in the application of this knowledge and skill (Littlejohn v State of New York, 87 AD2d 951, 952, citing Pike v Honsinger, 155 NY 201, 209- 210 [1898]). Claimant, therefore, must establish that Defendant’s mental health staff failed in one or more of those duties and that that failure was a proximate cause of his damages, i.e., that it was a substantial factor in causing or exacerbating his injuries (Kennedy v Peninsula Hosp. Center, 135 AD2d 788 [2d Dept 1987]; Koster v Greenberg, 120 AD2d 644 [2d Dept 1986]).
In order to prove that Defendant failed in its duty toward Claimant and that such failure was a cause of Claimant’s injuries, it would be necessary for Claimant to present expert medical testimony (Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653 [3d Dept 1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 810 [1998]; Morgan v State of New York, 40 AD2d 891; see also Berger v Becker, 272 AD2d 565 [2d Dept 2000]; Macey v Hassam, 97 AD2d 919 [3d Dept 1983]) to establish both the requisite standard of care and that the conduct of the mental health staff in this instance constituted a deviation from that standard. Claimant’s testimony that the only question he was asked by the treating psychiatrist, on two occasions, was why he had not eaten is simply not credible. Without that fact being proven, there is no basis for a conclusion that the treatment provided to Claimant by the mental health staff at Clinton Correctional Facility was negligent in any fashion.
Inasmuch as Claimant has failed to prove, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that the treatment given to him was negligent and was a cause for the injuries he suffered, the Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of Defendant, dismissing the claim.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.

January 26, 2007
Albany, New York
Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. As is evident from this statement, the Court permitted Claimant to ask opinion evidence of this witness.