New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
NELSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2010-031-513, Claim No. 112916


Claimant failed to demonstrate that State provided inadequate medical care. Claim dismissed.

Case information

UID: 2010-031-513
Claimant short name: NELSON
Footnote (claimant name) :
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 112916
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Claimant's attorney: WILLIE FRANK NELSON, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney: HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
New York State Attorney General
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: August 12, 2010
City: Rochester
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, Willie Frank Nelson, filed Claim No. 112916 on October 23, 2006, alleging he was the victim of negligence and medical malpractice at Five Points Correctional Facility ("Five Points") and Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, New York. Specifically, Mr. Nelson testified that between November of 2002 and October of 2005, he suffered from recurring lumps in his neck. He stated that, despite his repeated visits to the Five Points infirmary, the cause of his lumps, which were accompanied by swelling, aching and sometimes hearing loss, was never properly diagnosed by Defendant. He testified that he was advised that a lump which was on one of his salivary glands might be cancerous and accordingly, he agreed to have the lump removed on October 18, 2005 at Upstate University Hospital. Postoperative testing revealed that the lump was not cancerous.

Claimant did not call an expert witness but testified that he believes that Defendant's failure to properly diagnose him between late 2002 and the October 18, 2005 operation left him having to endure the pain and suffering caused by the lump while he had it, and to undergo unnecessary surgery to remove a cancer that was not present.

At the conclusion of Claimant's case, I reserved decision on Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim for failure to prove a prima facie case. I now grant that motion.

With regard to his medical malpractice cause of action, although Claimant asserts that Defendant failed to properly diagnose his condition, he provided no testimony concerning what his condition actually was and how Defendant was negligent in failing to properly identify it. Further, he has made no showing that Defendant's recommendation to surgically remove the lump that was believed to be potentially cancerous was improper. Claimant has also failed to demonstrate how any alleged negligence on Defendant's part caused him injury.

Clearly, the State has a duty to provide reasonable and adequate medical care to its inmates (Auger v State of New York, 263 AD2d 929). 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). However, only expert medical proof can establish the necessary legal causation required to impose liability and demonstrate that there was a deviation 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). Claimant has failed to provide such expert testimony, and nothing contained in his medical records or the related grievances filed by Claimant (Exhibits 1-6) demonstrates the required deviation from accepted medical standards.

Claimant has also alleged simple negligence relating to Defendant's failure to properly diagnose and treat his condition. 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, 256), and other similar circumstances.

Here, as the issues involved relate to the proper diagnosis and treatment of Claimant's medical condition, a cause of action for neglect or negligence cannot stand. 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 not finding the correct diagnosis for Claimant earlier, or for not pursuing a different course of treatment, I would necessarily require expert input on the subject. Claimant's failure to present any expert medical proof tending to show that the State deviated from accepted medical standards in diagnosing and treating his condition is fatal to his claim.

Consequently, Claimant has failed to establish a prima facie case of either negligence or medical malpractice. Accordingly, Defendant's motion is granted and the claim is dismissed. All other motions on which I previously reserved decision are hereby denied.


August 12, 2010

Rochester, New York


Judge of the Court of Claims