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$25,000 Awarded to Former New York Prisoner in Medical Malpractice Suit

$25,000 Awarded to Former New York
Prisoner in Medical Malpractice Suit

by Lonnie Burton

On February 13, 2003, a State Court
of Claims judge in Albany, NY ruled that a former prisoner at the Washington Correctional Facility (WCF) was entitled to an award of $25,000 to compensate him for the sub-par medical care he received from prison doctors following an injury he sustained playing basketball.

Wilbur Williams, now 44, was incarcerated at WCF on February 1, 1998 when he suffered the injury. He had been playing basketball when he jumped to block a shot. The opposing player landed on Williams' right foot and he left the game in pain. When he took off his shoe, he saw that his right foot was swollen. Williams then went to the prison infirmary, where he was seen by a nurse. The nurse looked at his foot, wrapped it in an ace bandage, gave Williams some Tylenol and told him to stay off his foot. The nurse did not give him ice, crutches, or have X-rays taken of his foot.

The next day Williams' foot was so swollen he could not wear his work boot. Williams was still forced to report for his duties as a porter, and hop a substantial distance to the chow hall for all of his meals. Several days later, on February 6, Williams noticed that his foot was now twice as big as the day before and was also discolored. Williams became frightened at the sight of his foot and immediately reported to the infirmary.

During this trip to the infirmary, Williams was seen by Dr. Samuel Spritzer, who looked at the foot and gave Williams some epsom salt and told him to soak his foot. Although Williams advised the doctor he thought his foot was broken, he again was not issued a cane, crutches or walker, nor were X-rays taken or ordered.

Finally, on February 11, Williams was taken across the street to the Great Meadow Correctional Facility for X-rays, where a fracture was found in the foot. He was given crutches and taken to an Albany hospital to see an orthopedic surgeon the next day. A cast was applied to Williams' foot and, for the first time, was told to use the crutches and keep all weight off his foot.

Williams wore the cast for nearly 8 weeks. But, despite the instructions he received from the doctor, Williams was still forced by prison staff to continue his porter duties and to travel to the chow hall for his meals. Williams wore the cast until mid-April, and when it was removed he reported "humongous" pain. The infirmary nurse told him to walk on the foot and the pain would go away. Williams was given a cane to use for two months.

However, despite Williams' repeated requests for physical therapy, none was provided until June 1998. At that time another X-ray was taken where it was discovered that his foot was still broken. A soft cast was applied which he wore until September 1998. The day after the cast was removed Williams was transferred to the Fishkill Correctional Facility. Upon his transfer, Williams' cane was taken from him.

Williams was released on parole in February 2000. He quickly got a job but was forced to quit because his foot continued to swell and cause him pain. In addition, he continued to limp on his right foot for hours each day before regaining his normal gait. After his release, Williams continued to take 800 mg of Motrin daily to ease the pain.

Williams then filed suit in the New York Court of Claims naming the State of New York as a defendant. Williams alleged that medical staff at WCF were negligent in several areas in treating his injury. A bench trial ensued, after which the Court found that WCF medical staff departed from acceptable standards of care for failing to X-ray Williams' foot within one to three days of the injury. The Court also found troubling WCF's practice of accumualting a number of prisoners who need X-rays before transporting them to the Great Meadow facility. The Court took judicial notice that Great Meadow is "just across the road" from WCF.

The Court also found that by directing Williams to walk on the broken foot, Dr. Spitzer exacerbated his injury and extended his recovery time. Such advice, the Court said, in light of the fact the X-rays showed little sign of healing, did not constitute good and accepted medical practice.

The Court awarded Williams $5,000 for past pain and suffering, and $20,000 for future pain and suffering, for a total award of $25,000. No information was available on what, if any, attorney's fees were awarded. Williams was represented at trial by Lisa Anne Proskin of the Proskin law firm. See Williams v. State of New York, Claim No. 10076, Court of Claims, State of New York. g

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Related legal case

Williams v. State of New York