New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HARRIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-009-196, Claim No. 105348


In this prisoner pro se claim alleging medical malpractice, the Court dismissed the claim, finding that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not apply.

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: Thomas M. Trace, Esq.,
Senior Attorney
Of Counsel.
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
December 24, 2008

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, an inmate appearing pro se, asserts a cause of action of medical malpractice allegedly occurring on October 23, 2001, at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. At the time, claimant was an inmate incarcerated at Mid-State Correctional Facility, and had been transferred on that date to Upstate University Hospital for a surgical procedure.

The trial of this claim was held on October 2, 2008 at Marcy Correctional Facility. Claimant was the only witness to testify at this trial.

At the trial, the Court accepted the allegations set forth in the claim as claimant’s testimony. As alleged therein, claimant contends that he was discharged, over his objections, from Upstate University Hospital following his surgical procedure without first being examined by a cardiologist or an ear, nose and throat specialist. At trial, claimant offered into evidence copies of his medical records, among other papers, which were collectively received as Exhibit 1.

At trial, claimant provided testimony to supplement his claim, stating that his medical records establish that his “vitals”[1] had been ordered, but were not taken when he was examined on October 9, 2001 at Mid-State Correctional Facility, prior to his admission to University Hospital.

Claimant did not call any other witnesses, nor did he offer any expert medical testimony, but rather advised the Court that he had elected to proceed on a theory of res ipsa loquitur.

It is well settled that the State owes a duty to those inmates in its institutions to provide them with medical care and treatment (Gordon v City of New York, 120 AD2d 562, affd 70 NY2d 839). This care must be reasonable and adequate, as an inmate must rely upon the prison authorities to treat and diagnose his medical needs (Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, lv denied 76 NY2d 701). Claimant, however, bears the burden of establishing that the care and treatment afforded him by staff at the State facility constituted a deviation from the applicable standard of care (Hale v State of New York, 53 AD2d 1025, lv denied 40 NY2d 804).

In order to rely upon the theory of res ipsa loquitur, a claimant must establish that (1) the event does not usually occur in the absence of negligence, (2) the instrumentality that caused the event was within the exclusive control of the defendant, and (3) claimant did not contribute to the cause of the accident (States v Lourdes Hosp., 100 NY2d 208; Dermatossian v New York City Tr. Auth., 67 NY2d 219). The doctrine, if established, gives rise to a permissible inference of negligence.

In medical malpractice actions, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur “is generally available to establish a prima facie case when an unexplained injury in an area which is remote from the treatment site occurs while the patient is anaesthetized . . . (citations omitted).” (Rosales-Rosario v Brookdale Univ. Hosp. & Med. Ctr., 1 AD3d 496, 497). In this case, however, claimant has not established any proximate connection between the alleged failure to take his vital signs during his pre-op physical examination on October 9, 2001, to any alleged complications occurring during the surgical procedure conducted at Upstate University Hospital on October 23, 2001.

Having found that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is inapplicable to this claim, the Court is left with the testimony of claimant, together with his records which were received into evidence (Exhibit 1), in support of his claim of medical malpractice. There was no medical evidence presented, however, either from a treating physician or from an expert witness whose opinion was based upon claimant’s medical records, to support his allegations of medical malpractice.

Claimant had the burden of establishing, by competent medical testimony, that the treatment received by him constituted a deviation from the applicable standard of care (Hale v State of New York, supra). In the absence of any such competent medical proof that there was a deviation from accepted medical standards, claimant has failed to establish a prima facie case, and this claim must therefore be dismissed. Any motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby denied.

The Clerk of the Court is therefore directed to enter judgment in accordance with this decision.

December 24, 2008
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. Unless otherwise indicated, all references and quotations are taken from the Court’s trial notes.