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$300,000 Awarded for Delayed Treatment of New York Prisoner's Hearing Loss

On October 31, 2003 a New York Court of Claims awarded Fishkill Correctional Facility prisoner Darryl Dickerson $300,000 for a partial hearing loss suffered because he was not provided timely medical treatment.

Dickerson claimed he heard a popping noise while he was exercising on the prison yard on August 22, 1997, and he immediately lost the ability to hear with his left ear. He promptly requested to see a prison doctor, but was not taken to the prison medical clinic until the following morning. A nurse evaluated him, but no medication or treatment was rendered.

Later that morning, a sergeant observed Dickerson suffering from nausea and dizziness, and that he was vomiting. The sergeant requested further medical care. On August 26, Dickerson was examined by the prison physician, Dr. John Francis, who documented the sudden hearing loss and ordered an ear, nose, and throat consultation.

Dickerson was not seen by an ENT specialist for 26 days. The specialist ordered an audiogram and an MRI, instructing Dickerson to have a follow-up two weeks later. Dr. Francis waited three weeks before ordering the tests. Dickerson was re-referred to the ENT specialist on November 8, but was not seen by the specialist until January 9, 1998. Dickerson was subsequently diagnosed with a permanent loss of the ability to hear with his left ear.

At trial, Dr. Robert J. Ruben, an otolaryngolgist testified that sudden loss of hearing accompanied by nausea and dizziness constituted a classic presentation of a perilymphatic fistula, which is an accurate diagnosis 90% of the time. Delayed treatment results in irreversible hearing and balance damage, and several weeks delay almost ensures permanent injury.

The prison's former medical director, Dr. Sandra Gordon-Salant, opined Dickerson should have been sent to an emergency room following the hearing loss. Both experts contended the delay in treatment departed from accepted medical care, and Dickerson should have been seen by an ENT specialist within 72 hours.

Dickerson suffered permanent loss of hearing in his left ear, and he suffers vertigo and nausea. He has experienced a decline in hearing over the past years; he is at an increased risk of hearing damage in his good ear and sustaining meningitis from the now-abnormal fluid flow in his brain and skull.

The Court of Claims awarded Dickerson $50,000 for past pain and suffering and $250,000 for future pain and suffering (37 years). Dickerson was represented by William J. Rold, Esquire, New York, New York. See: Dickerson v. New York, Case No. 100200, New York Court of Claims.


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Related legal case

Dickerson v. New York