New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
NELSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2017-032-008, Claim No. 121848

Synopsis

Following a trial, claimant's causes of action alleging negligence, medical malpractice, and the unauthorized disclosure of his medical records are dismissed.

Case information

UID: 2017-032-008
Claimant(s): CHARLES NELSON
Claimant short name: NELSON
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 121848
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: JUDITH A. HARD
Claimant's attorney: Robert Becher, Esq.
Defendant's attorney: Hon. Eric T. Schneiderman, NYS Attorney General
By: Thomas Monjeau, Assistant Attorney General,
Of Counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: November 27, 2017
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

FACTS

Claimant brings this action alleging six causes of action sounding in negligence. The original claim was filed on October 10, 2012. An amended claim was filed on October 24, 2013. The second amended claim was filed on March 25, 2014.

Claimant's first cause of action alleges that on April 12, 2011, a correction officer: (1) was negligently driving a motor vehicle in which claimant was a passenger; (2) did not file a report for the motor vehicle accident that occurred on that date; and (3) did not provide claimant with medical attention. Claimant alleges that he sustained neck and back injuries from this accident. The second, fifth and sixth causes of action appear to present the same causes of action for an alleged delay in the treatment of claimant's back pain. The third cause of action alleges that claimant was injured while trying to lift a 60 pound dumbbell. This cause of action attributes the injury to defendant's failure to inform claimant that he suffered from mild carpal tunnel syndrome in his right wrist. Claimant failed to present medical experts in support of his causes of action for the delay in medical treatment and his cause of action regarding his diagnosis of mild carpal tunnel syndrome. The fourth cause of action alleges that claimant's medical information was released to another agency without his consent. The trial of this matter focused on the alleged negligence of the correction officer in operating a truck. Claimant alleged that the correction officer hit a brick wall while backing the truck into a portico.

Claimant testified that he currently lives on Long Island and is unemployed. At the time of the alleged accident, he was an inmate at Ulster Correctional Facility. On April 12, 2011, he and another inmate were assigned to assist Correction Officer White with the delivery of mattresses to Housing Unit A-1. After loading mattresses onto a pickup truck, claimant sat in the back seat of the pickup truck and the other inmate rode in the front passenger seat while White drove the truck towards Housing Unit A-1 (Exhibit G). When they arrived at Housing Unit A-1, White did a U-turn so that he could back the truck into the portico. Claimant testified that White and the other inmate in the front seat were conversing while White was backing up the truck at 10 to 15 miles per hour. As White was backing the truck into the portico, claimant alleges that the back right side of the truck hit a brick wall, which was part of Housing Unit A-1. Claimant marked Exhibit E where the truck allegedly hit the wall. He claimed that the damaged part of the wall had bricks that were chipped, and chips were lying on the pavement. He also maintained that the back bumper of the truck had the color red on it, as well as a dent. Claimant maintained that he was thrown from the passenger seat and injured his neck and had a sharp pain in his back. He was not wearing a seat belt at the time. The other inmate unloaded the mattresses. The following day claimant requested permission for sick call at the infirmary to receive treatment for his alleged injuries (Exhibit 1).

Without providing any documentary evidence, claimant testified that his other causes of action in this claim for delayed medical treatment are based upon the delay in his treatment with a neurosurgeon that did not occur until eight months later. He asserted that he was diagnosed with bulging discs and had surgery in 2013 for this condition. As for the incident in which claimant dropped a 60 pound dumbbell, allegedly due to carpal tunnel syndrome, he claims that although he was tested for carpal tunnel syndrome, he was never informed about the diagnosis. He discovered after the incident that he had mild carpal tunnel syndrome when he requested his medical records. No documentary evidence was submitted to support these allegations. Claimant also did not present documentary evidence or supporting testimony to prove his claim alleging that his medical records were sent to the Social Security Administration for another person's claim.

Defendant produced three witnesses. The first witness was retired Correction Officer Scott White. In April 2011, he was the conservation project officer, a position which entailed assisting in tasks assigned to the maintenance staff. At any given time, he could have up to five inmates assigned to him to assist in carrying out his tasks. He could not recall which inmates were assigned to help him on the date of the alleged accident. White testified that the accident never happened. If it had, he would have been required to report it to his immediate supervisor and any persons injured would have been seen by the medical department. Additionally, an incident report would have been generated, documenting damage to the vehicle and the building. He never observed any damage to Housing Unit A-1, which he frequented almost on a daily basis.

Defendant also called Correction Officer John Fitzpatrick, who was the acting fire and safety officer on the day of the alleged accident. He was responsible for responding to fires and accidents. He testified that he probably would have been called to the scene of the accident as it was described by claimant. He would have inspected the building if someone had backed into it and chipped the bricks. If there had been damage, he would have noticed it, as he passed that building every day while entering and exiting the prison. He testified that he never noticed any damage to Housing Unit A-1.

Joseph Knecht is currently employed as the maintenance supervisor at Ulster Correctional Facility. In 2011, he worked there as an electrician. At that time, all of the trade employees would meet with the maintenance supervisor each morning to discuss the assignments for the day. Since 2011, he has never seen any damage to the bricks of the building where claimant testified that the pickup truck hit the wall. He testified that he would have remembered if the building was repaired because he would have assisted with the repair.

DISCUSSION

In order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a claimant " 'must demonstrate (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach thereof, and (3) injury proximately resulting therefrom' " (Pasternack v Laboratory Corp. of Am. Holdings, 27 NY3d 817, 825 [2016], quoting Solomon v City of New York, 66 NY2d 1026, 1027 [1985]). Claimant has the burden of proving his case by a preponderance of the credible evidence (Zi Guang v State of New York, 263 AD2d 745 [3d Dept 1999]). In determining whether claimant has met his burden, the Court, as a finder of fact, must weigh the evidence presented after assessing the credibility of the witnesses, and resolving conflicting evidence and the relative strength of conflicting inferences that may be drawn therefrom (Zi Guang v State of New York, 263 AD2d at 746; Brooker v State of New York, 206 AD2d 712 [3d Dept 1994]).

After considering all of the testimony, and observing the witnesses and their demeanor as they testified, the Court finds that claimant has not demonstrated by a preponderance of the credible evidence that defendant breached a duty of care owed to claimant. More specifically, claimant failed to demonstrate that the accident that allegedly caused his back and neck injuries actually happened. The Court finds that the testimony given by retired Correction Officer White is credible. He testified that if the accident occurred he would have been required to file an incident report. Claimant never produced such report. The Court also finds credible the testimony of retired Correction Officer White and Correction Officer Fitzpatrick wherein they stated that they would have observed any damage to Housing Unit A-1 because of its location within the prison, which they traversed almost daily. Their testimony was corroborated by Mr. Knecht, the maintenance supervisor, who also did not hear about or observe the alleged damage to the building. The Court, as fact finder, must assess the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses to resolve any factual disputes (see Livingston v State of New York, 129 AD3d 1660, 1660 [4th Dept 2015]). Given the differing testimony between claimant and defendant's three witnesses, the Court finds that claimant's testimony regarding the alleged accident is not credible, and he has failed to adduce proof that defendant was negligent (Francis v State of New York, UID No. 2013-050-505 [Ct Cl, Lynch, J., June 4, 2013]). Accordingly, claimant's first cause of action is dismissed.

Claimant also failed to prove his second, third, fifth and sixth causes of action. He did not provide the Court with any documentary evidence, medical or otherwise, to support these claims. Furthermore, claimant failed to produce a medical expert to support his claims regarding treatment of his neck and back pain, and the alleged failure to diagnose and treat his mild carpal tunnel syndrome (Welch v State of New York, 105 AD3d 1450, 1451 [4th Dept 2013]). " 'Where medical issues are not within the ordinary experience and knowledge of lay persons, expert medical opinion is . . . required' to establish that defendant's alleged negligence or deviation from an accepted standard of care caused or contributed to claimant's injuries" (Wood v State of New York, 45 AD3d 1198, 1198 [3d Dept 2007], quoting Wells v State of New York, 228 AD2d 581, 582 [2d Dept 1996], lv denied 88 NY2d 814 [1996] [additional citations omitted]). Accordingly, the Court dismisses claimant's second, third, fifth, and sixth causes of action.

Lastly, claimant's fourth cause of action regarding the unauthorized disclosure of his medical records is dismissed. "Prison inmates have the right to have the privacy of their medical information maintained to the extent consistent with the provision of adequate medical care and the safety and good order of the facility" (Scott v Smith, 90 AD3d 1431, 1432 [3d Dept 2011], citing 9 NYCRR 7651.26[a][7]; Tatta v State of New York, 51 AD3d 1295, 1296 [3d Dept 2008], lv denied 11 NY3d 703 [2008] ). However, claimant failed to produce any proof that his medical records had been disclosed without his authorization aside from self-serving testimony and inadmissible hearsay evidence.

Based on the foregoing, Claim No. 121848 is dismissed in its entirety. All motions and applications not previously determined are hereby denied as moot. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

November 27, 2017

Albany, New York

JUDITH A. HARD

Judge of the Court of Claims