New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LEE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-031-505, Claim No. 109761


Claimant failed to demonstrate that State was negligent in permitting him to walk unassisted to men’s room after receiving eye drops that dilated his pupils. Claim dismissed

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: BONNIE GAIL LEVY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 26, 2008

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Eddie James Lee, Sr., filed claim number 109761 on August 23, 2004, alleging that Defendant had negligently permitted him to walk unassisted in a bright hallway after receiving eye drops that dilated his pupils. The claim alleges causes of action for medical malpractice and medical negligence. I held the trial of this claim at Auburn Correctional Facility on May 27, 2008.
Claimant testified that, on August 7, 2003, he was taken from Cayuga Correctional Facility to Upstate Medical Center for an eye examination related to upcoming laser eye surgery. According to Claimant, he saw the doctor and was given eye drops and made to sit in a dark room for approximately one-half hour. Upon informing the doctor that he had to use the rest room, Claimant was directed, but not assisted to the men’s room. Claimant, who walks with a cane and testified that he was still in shackles at the time, stated that he left the dark room and entered the hallway. He made it approximately 15 to 20 feet down the hallway when, because of the relative brightness of the light on his eyes, he slipped and fell injuring his left shoulder. He argued that it was negligent for Defendant to give him the eye drops and then let him walk alone in the brightly lit hall to try to make it to the rest room on his own.
It is well settled that the State has a duty to provide reasonable and adequate medical care to the inmates of its correctional facilities (Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, lv denied 76 NY2d 701). The State may be cast in liability for injuries that result because its physicians fail to use ordinary and reasonable care or to exercise their best judgment in applying the knowledge and skill ordinarily possessed by practitioners in the field (Hale v State of New York, 53 AD2d 1025, lv denied 40 NY2d 804).
To the extent that Claimant alleges that the Defendant is guilty of medical malpractice, I must deny him relief, due to Claimant’s failure to present expert medical testimony that the care he received had deviated from good and accepted standards of medical care (see Rossi v Arnot Ogden Med. Ctr., 268 AD2d 916; Spicer v Community Family Planning Council Health Ctr., 272 AD2d 317; Lyons v McCauley, 252 AD2d 516).
What Claimant has alleged is a case of medical negligence. Such a case, in essence, alleges negligent omissions or commissions by State caregivers which can be readily determined without the necessity of expert testimony. However, this theory is limited to “those cases where the alleged negligent act may be readily determined by the trier of the facts based on common knowledge” (Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, 114 AD2d 254, 256). Such cases have involved scalding a patient with a hot water bottle (Phillips v Buffalo General Hospital, 239 NY 188), leaving an electric light bulb under the sheets (Dillon v Rockaway Beach Hospital, 284 NY 176), leaving a postoperative patient unattended in a bathroom (Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, 114 AD2d 254 supra), and other similar circumstances.
Was it negligent for Defendant’s doctor to let Claimant walk on his own after having placed the eye drops in Claimant’s eyes 30 minutes prior? I find that such negligence is not readily apparent in this case. As just walking out of a dark room to a brightly lit room wouldn’t ordinarily involve liability, Claimant was required to demonstrate, through medical testimony or otherwise, that it was unsafe to permit a patient to walk in a lighted hallway one-half hour after receiving eye drops. These are not matters which lie within the common knowledge of the trier of fact. Claimant offered no evidence concerning what type of drops were placed in his eyes, the effect the drops generally have on an individual, or what normal protocols are for patients who receive eye drops. Whether a claim is couched in terms of negligence or medical malpractice, if the issues involve conditions beyond the common knowledge of a fact finder, expert medical proof will be required to sustain a recovery (Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653).
For me to conclude that Defendant was negligent for failing to assist Claimant to the men’s room, I would need some proof that some type of patient care standard had been breached. I would most likely require expert input on the subject of what that standard is. Claimant failed to present any expert medical proof tending to show that the State deviated from accepted medical standards in permitting him to walk unassisted in the hallway one-half hour after receiving eye drops. I find, rather, that as Claimant entered the hallway, it was incumbent on him to either wait until his eyes adjusted or to inform someone (he testified that the guards followed him into the hallway) that he could not see due to the brightness of the light. He did neither. Instead, he proceeded down the hallway, despite the fact that he could not see.
Consequently, Claimant has failed to establish a prima facie case of either negligence or medical malpractice. The claim is dismissed. All other motions on which I previously reserved decision are hereby denied.

September 26, 2008
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims