New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
YOUNG v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-038-110, Claim No. 125176

Synopsis

Case information

UID: 2019-038-110
Claimant(s): REGGIE YOUNG
Claimant short name: YOUNG
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 125176
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: W. BROOKS DeBOW
Claimant's attorney: REGGIE YOUNG, Pro se
Defendant's attorney: LETITIA JAMES, Attorney General
of the State of New York
By: Stephen Barry, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: August 19, 2019
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, an individual incarcerated in a State correctional facility, filed this claim alleging that medical staff at Green Haven Correctional Facility (CF) committed medical malpractice and negligence with regard to the treatment of his left wrist following surgery in September 2012. The trial of this claim was conducted by videoconference on July 25, 2019, with the parties appearing at Green Haven CF in Stormville, New York and the Court sitting in Albany, New York. Claimant offered his own testimony, and three exhibits offered by him were received into evidence. Defendant did not put on a case. After listening to claimant's testimony, and observing his demeanor as he did so, and upon consideration of that evidence, the documentary evidence received at trial, the arguments of the parties at trial, and the applicable law, the Court concludes that in the absence of testimony from a medical expert, claimant has failed to make a prima facie showing that defendant is liable to him.

FACTS

On September 12, 2012, claimant, who was then incarcerated at Green Haven CF, had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist that was performed by Dr. Magill at Mount Vernon Hospital. Claimant testified that Dr. Magill inserted pins in his wrist that were supposed to be removed after "a couple of weeks."(1) Following his surgery, claimant was transported back to Green Haven CF. Claimant testified that he was subsequently taken to Fishkill CF seven times for follow-up visits with Dr. Magill, who told claimant that he should not have been brought to Fishkill CF, but should have been taken to Mount Vernon Hospital so that he could remove the pins. In a Hospital Discharge Summary authored by Dr. Magill that was dated September 20, 2012 at Fishkill CF, claimant was ordered to "[k]eep dressing/cast clean and dry" and "[k]eep dressing in place for 10 [weeks]" (Claimant's Exhibit 1 [DOCCS Hospital Discharge/Transfer Summary, dated Sep. 20, 2012).

Claimant testified that as of January 2013 the pins had not been removed and had started to bulge out of his wrist and scrape under his skin, causing a great deal of pain and discomfort. Claimant testified that eventually one of the pins popped through the skin and that when he went to the Green Haven CF infirmary on January 13, 2013 the nurses "freaked out" upon seeing the pin and sent him to the Mount Vernon Hospital emergency room. Claimant testified that the doctors and nurses at Mount Vernon Hospital questioned him as to why he was brought there instead of being brought to a hospital closer to Green Haven CF, and he was told that Dr. Magill was not at the hospital that day. Claimant testified that he sat in the hallway of the emergency room for three to four hours and was eventually seen by a doctor who used pliers to "yank" the pin out of his wrist but did not remove the other remaining pins. Claimant testified that the doctor used peroxide on his wound and taped up his wrist, and he was thereafter returned to Green Haven CF.

Claimant testified that on January 29, 2013 he was transported to Mount Vernon Hospital, where Dr. Magill removed the remaining pins. Claimant testified that Dr. Magill told him that the pins should have been removed from his wrist prior to January 29, 2013. A Mount Vernon Hospital Surgical Pathology Report dated January 25, 2013 reflects that "K wires (three)" were removed from claimant's wrist on January 23, 2013 (id. [Mount Vernon Hospital Surgical Pathology Report, dated Jan. 25, 2013]). Claimant testified that he asked Dr. Magill why he had not had any physical therapy (PT) following the surgery, and Dr. Magill told him that he had "put in" for PT but that Green Haven CF medical staff stated that claimant did not need PT. In the "PHYSICAL THERAPY ORDERS" section of the September 20, 2012 Hospital Discharge/Transfer Summary, Dr. Magill ordered "[n]o heavy use [left] hand" and "[n]o [indecipherable] [left] wrist" (id. [DOCCS Hospital Discharge/Transfer Summary, dated Sep. 20, 2012]). Claimant testified that he currently has a "tremendous amount" of pain and very little range of motion in his left wrist, which he attributes to the delay in removing the pins and the lack of PT.

DISCUSSION

The claim alleges that medical staff at Green Haven CF committed medical malpractice and negligence in failing to remove the pins in his wrist in a timely manner and in failing to schedule him for PT. Defendant moved to dismiss the claim at the conclusion of claimant's proof, arguing that claimant had not demonstrated the accepted standard of medical care or whether any breach of such standard was a cause of his injuries. Claimant opposed the motion, arguing that medical records show that Dr. Magill requested that claimant be returned to the hospital a couple of weeks after surgery so that the pins could be removed and that defendant's agents waited until a pin was sticking out of his skin to act. Defendant rested after calling no witnesses or offering any proof on its case and moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that claimant had failed to adduce expert proof on his medical malpractice and medical negligence claims. In opposition, claimant argued that expert proof was unnecessary because the medical documents demonstrate defendant's liability inasmuch as defendant's agents waited five months to remove the pins. The Court reserved decision on defendant's motions and will now grant the motion made at the conclusion of claimant's case, for the reasons that follow.

"It is fundamental law that the State has a duty to provide reasonable and adequate medical care to the inmates of its prisons" (Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, 789 [3d Dept 1990] lv denied 76 NY2d 701 [1990]; see also Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7, 11 [2d Dept 1996]). The State's "duty to provide medical care and treatment to its prisoners . . . has been defined in terms of both negligence . . . and medical malpractice" (Kagan, 221 AD2d at 16). A claim sounds in medical malpractice, rather than negligence, when "the negligence alleged . . . relates . . . to the professional skill and judgment rendered by doctors [in medically treating a patient], rather than information within the common knowledge of a layperson" (Maki v Bassett Healthcare, 85 AD3d 1366, 1367 [3d Dept 2011], appeal dismissed 17 NY3d 855 [2011], lv dismissed in part and denied in part 18 NY3d 870 [2012]).

Claimants alleging medical malpractice are "required to prove, through a medical expert, that [medical professionals] breached the standard for good and acceptable care in the locality where the treatment occurred and that [such] breach was the proximate cause of [their] injury" (Bracci v Hopper, 274 AD2d 865, 867 [3d Dept 2000]). Only "a narrow category of factually simple medical malpractice cases requires no expert to enable the [factfinder] reasonably to conclude that the accident would not happen without negligence. Not surprisingly, the oft-cited example is where a surgeon leaves a sponge or foreign object inside the [claimant's] body" (Kambat v St. Francis Hosp., 89 NY2d 489, 496 [1997]; see also Rivers v State of New York, 142 Misc 2d 563, 567 [Ct Cl 1989], revd on other grounds, 159 AD2d 788 [3d Dept 1990], lv denied 76 NY2d 701 [1990] [expert affidavit unnecessary where medical malpractice related to operation on wrong body part]). However, regardless of "[w]hether the claim is grounded in negligence or medical malpractice, '[w]here medical issues are not within the ordinary experience and knowledge of lay persons, expert medical opinion is a required element of a prima facie case' " (Tatta v State of New York, 19 AD3d 817, 818 [3d Dept 2005], lv denied 5 NY3d 712 [2005], quoting Wells v State of New York, 228 AD2d 581, 582 [2d Dept 1996], lv denied 88 NY2d 814 [1996]).

Claimant argues that expert medical proof is not necessary because the medical records establish that the pins in his left wrist should have been removed a few weeks after his surgery. However, the medical records received at trial contain no direct order by Dr. Magill or any other physician directing when the pins in claimant's wrist were to be removed. Moreover, the medical records contain no physician's order directing that claimant receive PT following his surgery. Even assuming that Dr. Magill was of the opinion that the pins should have been removed sooner or that claimant should have received PT, as claimant testified, there was no testimony or other evidence that the delay in removing the pins or the denial of PT violated an applicable standard of care. Inasmuch as medical decisions concerning when to remove the pins and whether to order PT manifestly involve the exercise of medical skill and judgment, expert testimony to edify the factfinder was required. Moreover, even assuming that claimant had established that defendant's agents breached the applicable standard of care or violated a duty in failing to timely remove the pins and in neglecting to order PT, claimant was required to prove through an expert that the deviation in the standard of care or the breach of any duty was the proximate cause of his pain and loss of range of motion. In the absence of such expert testimony, claimant has failed to establish prima facie his claim of medical malpractice and negligence.

CONCLUSION

Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim at the conclusion of claimant's case is GRANTED, and thus, claim number 125176 is DISMISSED. Any motions not previously ruled upon are hereby DENIED.

The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

August 19, 2019

Saratoga Springs, New York

W. BROOKS DeBOW

Judge of the Court of Claims


1. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are to the audio recording of the trial of this claim.