New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HENDERSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-015-511, Claim No. 109124


Synopsis


Pro se inmate injured in a motor vehicle accident failed to establish at trial that he sustained a "serious injury" within the meaning of the No Fault Law.

Case Information

UID:
2009-015-511
Claimant(s):
JAMES HENDERSON
Claimant short name:
HENDERSON
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
109124
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant’s attorney:
James Henderson, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Stephen Maher, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 14, 2009
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

The claim alleges that the claimant was injured in a motor vehicle accident which occurred at Washington Correctional Facility at approximately 9:05 p.m. on June 30, 2003. The trial of this matter was held on November 6, 2008.


The claimant testified that Washington Correctional Facility is composed of two component parts, a main and an annex facility. On the evening of his accident the claimant left the law library located at Washington's main facility and entered a Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) van to be transported back to his living quarters at the Washington Annex. The claimant was handcuffed and testified that he was not provided a seatbelt. The van began to exit the parking lot of the Washington main facility and approached what the claimant described as a "checkpoint box". As the van neared the checkpoint box Correction Officer Randall, the operator of the van in which the claimant was riding, abruptly applied his brakes to avoid a vehicle proceeding in the opposite direction, causing the claimant to be thrown to the floor of the van, striking his back on a pole used to enter and exit the vehicle. Claimant alleged that he also twisted his knee and aggravated prior injuries to his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament. As a result of his injuries he missed "a couple of days" of work detail.

On cross-examination the claimant testified that while he was seated in the van he was handcuffed but was not wearing leg irons. He confirmed that although the van stopped suddenly the vehicle did not come in contact with the vehicle proceeding in the opposite direction. The claimant submitted Exhibit A containing medical records for the period June 2003 through December 2003 and Exhibit B, incident and inmate injury reports dated June 30, 2003. In his report concerning the matter Correction Officer Randall states:
"At approximately 9:00 p.m. after picking up above-named inmate from the law library to return to H-block, it was necessary for me to stop quickly to avoid a collision with another vehicle. Inmate fell from the seat landing on the floor of the vehicle. This incident occurred by the frisk shack in the main compound."

The inmate injury report contained within Exhibit B indicates that the claimant complained of moderate discomfort to his back, his right lower abdomen and wrist. A minor abrasion was noted to be visible below claimant's right knee.

The defendant called Jamie Pino-Cabera, a chaplain at Washington Correctional Facility. Chaplain Pino-Cabera was a passenger in the DOCS van at the time of the claimant's accident. The witness testified that he was seated on the right side of the van while the claimant was seated in front of him on the left side of the van. Very shortly after the van began moving "at a very slow" speed the operator slammed on his brakes to avoid a vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Chaplain Pino-Cabera observed the claimant fall from his seat at the time the brakes were applied. The Chaplain testified that he did not fall from his seat, that he did not grab or hold on to anything but rather braced himself with his feet on the floor.

On cross-examination the witness testified that he assisted the claimant in standing and returning to his seat following the accident.

Insurance Law § 5104 (a) prohibits recovery of non-economic loss in actions arising from the negligent operation of a motor vehicle except in the case of a "serious injury". The term "serious injury" is defined in Insurance Law § 5102 (d) as follows:
"d) ‛Serious injury' means a personal injury which results in death; dismemberment; significant disfigurement; a fracture; loss of a fetus; permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system; permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member; significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or a medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person's usual and customary daily activities for not less than ninety days during the one hundred eighty days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment."

Neither the claimant's testimony nor the medical records received as Exhibit A establish that the claimant sustained a "serious injury" within the meaning of Insurance Law § 5102 (d). Under the permanent loss of use category, a plaintiff must establish that the loss of use is total (Oberly v Bangs Ambulance, 96 NY2d 295 [2001] and no such evidence was presented in this case. Nor is there any medical proof containing "objective, quantitative evidence with respect to diminished range of motion or qualitative assessment comparing [claimant's] present limitations to the normal function, purpose and use of the affected body organ, member, function or system" Saleh v Bryant, 49 AD3d 991, 992 [2008] [internal quotations and citations omitted]). In fact, review of claimant's medical records reveals no more than subjective complaints of pain of a temporary nature. As the claimant has failed to meet the serious injury threshold requirement, the claim must be dismissed (id.; see also Palmer v Moulton, 16 AD3d 933 [2005]; John v Engel, 2 AD3d 1027 [2003]; Pasqualino v Murphy, 149 AD2d 779 [1989]).

Let judgment be entered accordingly.




January 14, 2009
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims