New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DOBBIN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-041-510, Claim No. 106779


Medical malpractice claim dismissed for failure to provide competent medical proof of a deviation from the applicable standard of care by defendant.

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: Frederick H. McGown, III, Esq. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
August 28, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Anthony Dobbin (claimant) complains of medical care and treatment he received at Clinton Correctional Facility (Clinton) between April, 2001 and January, 2002. Claimant sought medical treatment during this time period for a rash which had developed on his shoulders, back and between his legs. Alleging inadequate medical care, claimant states the rash itched, spread in area on his body, created purple bumps and permanent black spots and ultimately resulted in skin discoloration.

Although additionally claiming at trial that the defendant’s alleged failure to follow certain of its internal protocols regarding medical treatment of inmates constituted “administrative negligence” (see Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7 [2d Dept 1996]), the claim is clearly for medical malpractice and is expressly couched in those terms.

In his claim, Mr. Dobbin states, “[o]n and prior to the 14th day of January, 2002, the defendant disregarded their duty by negligently and carelessly as being a provider for the claimant, Anthony Dobbin, delayed in the diagnose and treatment; rendered inadequate medical care; less effective treatment; and ineffective treatment allowing rashes to spread on claimant . . . .”

Among several other allegations, he later adds:

“The defendant failed to provide claimant with competent medical care despite numerous and continuous complaint’s, the defendant failed to provide a physician who possessed a reasonable degree of learning and skill. The defendant failed to exercise it’s duty to provide reasonable care and diligence in affording proper medical care .

The claimant received medical treatment which was performed in an extremely careless and negligence manner .

The defendant failed to utilize the services of necessary medical specialist in a timely manner.

The defendant failed to prescribe a proper and necessary medical plan to correct and determine the cause of the claimant’s medical problem with a biopsy.”

Claimant was the only witness at trial. At the conclusion of his case, defendant moved to dismiss for failure of claimant to make a prima facie case due to failure to produce expert medical testimony or documentary evidence to prove his claim of medical malpractice. Having reserved decision on defendant’s motion at trial, the Court now grants defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Claimant provided substantial testimony involving his attempts to have a rash which developed in April, 2001 be medically treated to his satisfaction by defendant. He recounted many visits to sick call at Clinton, the resulting provision of medicinal creams which proved to be unsatisfactory in lessening the effects or arresting the spread of the rash, his attempts to see a doctor and to have biopsies performed, a delay in seeing a dermatologist and finally, that due to the ineffective and delayed medical treatment for his condition, the rash spread and discolored portions of his skin.

He testified that although a “dermatology consult” was to have been requested by defendant in September of 2001, he was not seen by a dermatologist until March, 2002. The proof was unclear as to whether the consult was actually ordered in September and simply took six months for the visit to be arranged or that there was a delay in defendant submitting the request for the dermatology referral.

Moreover, a number of exhibits were introduced seeking to establish defendant’s failure to follow certain practices and policies regarding the medical treatment of inmates. Exhibit 5 has language which provides: “Nursing staff may distribute the appropriate OTC medications per protocol for three days. Inmates presenting to sick call three times for persistent symptoms MUST BE SCHEDULED FOR PHYSICIAN’S CALL OUT. If the physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner decides to continue the OTC medication, it will then be written as a prescription and noted in the AHR.”

Claimant contended that despite repeatedly presenting himself at Clinton sick call starting in late summer of 2001 for unabated problems with the rash, although his testimony on this point was not specific, he did not see a physician for the condition until the dermatologist appointment of March, 2002. He further alleges the defendant’s failure to follow protocols set forth in Exhibits 5, 6 and 7 amounted to “administrative negligence.”

It “is well settled that where the State engages in a proprietary function such as providing medical and psychiatric care, it is held to the same duty of care as private individuals and institutions engaged in the same activity” (Rattray v State of New York, 223 AD2d 356, 357 [1st Dept 1996]).

Defendant is required to exercise professional medical judgment within the range of accepted medical standards in its treatment of claimant. The law is clear that “neither a medical provider ... nor the State or governmental subdivisions employing the medical provider, may be held liable for a mere error in professional judgment” (Ibguy v State of New York, 261 AD2d 510 [2d Dept 1999], lv denied 93 NY2d 816 [1999]; Sciarabba v State of New York, 182 AD2d 892, 893-894 [3d Dept 1992]).

Conclusory allegations of medical malpractice, unsupported by competent evidence establishing its essential elements, are insufficient to state a prima facie case. Through a medical expert, it must be shown that defendant deviated from the standard for good and acceptable care in the locality where the treatment occurred and that the deviation was the proximate cause of the injury (Torns v Samaritan Hosp., 305 AD2d 965, 966 [3d Dept 2003]; Yamin v Baghel, 284 AD2d 778, 779 [3d Dept 2001]; Bracci v Hopper, 274 AD2d 865, 867 [3d Dept 2000]).

"Where medical issues are not within the ordinary experience and knowledge of lay persons, expert medical opinion is a required element of a prima facie case" (Wells v State of New York, 228 AD2d 581, 582 [2d Dept 1996], lv denied 88 NY2d 814 [1996]; see Tatta v State of New York, 19 AD3d 817 [3d Dept 2005], lv denied 5 NY3d 712 [2005].

The fact that claimant proceeded pro se does not excuse the need for expert medical opinion to demonstrate a deviation from the applicable standard of care (Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653, 653-654 [1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 810 [1998]).

Regardless of what manner claimant chooses to characterize defendant’s failures, the basis of claimant’s lawsuit is founded in medical malpractice (see McDonald v State of New York, 13 AD3d 1199 [4th Dept 2004]). Although claimant suggests lay testimony is sufficient to understand the causes, symptoms, pathology, treatment and consequences of poor or no treatment for a rash, the Court cannot agree.

The word “rash” is an easily understood concept, but it is medically imprecise. While it can commonly be understood to be some kind of skin condition, a specific skin condition can have any number of etiologies, symptoms and pathologies. If, how, and when to treat the condition and the consequences of failure to do so, whatever the condition’s specific genesis and nature, required expert medical testimony or proof. There was none.

Further, no expert medical proof was provided to establish the standard of medical care owed to claimant by defendant, or that the treatment he did receive at the hands of defendant fell short of the standard of care he was owed. As such, whether defendant met or fell short of fulfilling internal policies regarding inmate medical care, and no finding regarding that issue has been made, is not probative on the matter of negligence since claimant must first establish, through expert medical proof, that the policies which defendant ostensibly failed to follow were at least equivalent to the minimum standard of medical care to which claimant was entitled (see Gibson v D'Amico, 97 AD2d 905 [3d Dept 1983]), lv denied 61 NY2d 603 [1984], rearg denied 64 NY2d 646 [1984] ; Yamin, 284 AD2d at 779). He did not do so.

Moreover, even assuming that claimant’s introduction of an internally created protocol which defendant may have failed to follow established an unmet standard of care to which he was entitled, the claim must nevertheless fail since “claimant must establish that the negligence of the State or the State's deviation from the accepted standard of care was the proximate cause of the claimant's injuries” (Lowe v State of New York, 35 AD3d 1281, 1282 [4th Dept 2006]), and “even assuming improper delay in providing treatment, it was incumbent upon claimant to show by competent expert evidence that the delay was a cause of his alleged ensuing medical problems” (Trottie v State of New York, 39 AD3d 1094, 1095 [3d Dept 2007]).

For all of the foregoing reasons, claimant has failed to establish a prima facie case establishing defendant’s negligence. Defendant’s motion to dismiss is granted. The claim is dismissed.

All motions not previously decided are hereby denied. Let judgment be entered accordingly.

August 28, 2007
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims