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$4,500 Verdict in NY Hernia Suit

On November 16, 1999, the New York court of claims awarded New York state prisoner Justo Lopez $4,500 for a hernia he developed while assigned to do work beyond his physical capacity. Prior to his incarceration Lopez had been shot several times, as a result his abdominal wall was weakened. Lopez was assigned to work as a porter at the Southport Correctional Facility in 1995. The porter job involved carrying up to 12 trays up three flights of stairs three times a day.

Lopez asked to be removed from the job because he was concerned it would aggravate his condition. His requests were denied and he duly developed a hernia that required surgery to repair. Lopez filed suit and the court of claims ruled in his favor, finding the state of New York knew, or should have known, that he was not physically capable of working as a porter without risking serious injury. The court specifically rejected the prison doctor's claim that the porter job did not involve heavy lifting. "There was no foundation testimony in the record that [the physician] knew what the lifting requirements of the special housing unit porter job were. Even if he was familiar with those requirements, however, I believe that defendant's actions speak louder than [the physician's] words. As soon as [he] issued an order in August, 1995, that excused claimant from `heavy lifting,' defendant reassigned claimant to another position."

The damage award of $4,500 was solely for past pain and suffering, since the gunshot wounds had already left Lopez unable to perform certain activities he could not claim a diminished earning capacity. Lopez represented himself pro se in the case. See: Lopez v. State of New York, Claim No. 92603. NY Court of Claims, Rochester.

Source: NY Jury Reporter

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Related legal case

Lopez v. State of New York