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New York Prisoner Awarded $800,000 for Undiagnosed, Untreated Throat Cancer

New York Prisoner Awarded $800,000
for Undiagnosed, Untreated Throat Cancer

On September 30, 2003, a state court of claims in Albany, New York, awarded state prisoner Ronald Zacchi $800,000 for the pain and suffering he experienced as a result of the prison medical staff's failure to diagnose and treat his laryngeal cancer.

For 16 months following his imprisonment at the Gouverneur (New York) Correctional Facility in April 1998, Zacchi, 56, was regularly treated at the prison infirmary for hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, pain in his left ear, and later, expectoration of blood. Medical personnel concluded that Zacchi's condition was chronic and that his symptoms were unresponsive to antibiotics.

A gastroenterologist examined Zacchi on April 13, 1999, and referred him to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. However, the prison's supervising physician delayed the referral until August 6, 1999. Upon examining Zacchi, the ENT specialist concluded that a cancerous tumor had spread throughout his throat.

Zacchi was subsequently hospitalized for approximately one month. His larynx and trachea were surgically removed and a stoma was inserted into his neck. The resulting problems are formidable. Zacchi cannot speak without an electrolarynx, he cannot breathe without the stoma, and he must use a suction device every morning to remove accumulated mucous from his chest.

Contending that the failure of prison medical personnel to recognize and treat the cancer early on necessitated the radical surgery, Zacchi sued the state of New York seeking approximately $1 million. Zacchi's claim was supported by otolaryngologist Alvin Katz, M.D., who testified that the cancer could have been diagnosed in June 1998, and if it had been, the laryngectomy, tracheotomy, and stoma insertion would not have been necessary.

Other evidence also bolstered Zacchi's claim. In her deposition, the prison's triage nurse admitted knowing that Zacchi had smoked heavily for 43 years and that his symptoms were classic signs of laryngeal cancer. Moreover, prison records revealed that Zacchi had either complained of his symptoms or had been treated for them at least 22 times before his referral to the ENT specialist was approved.

The state's medical expert testified that Zacchi's referral to an ENT specialist could not have been justified until April or May of 1999 and that the cancer could have been diagnosed at that time. He acknowledged that some measure of malpractice had occurred.

The court concluded that the prison medical staff's knowledge about the symptoms of throat cancer was deficient and that they had not properly addressed Zacchi's complaints. Accordingly, the court determined that the prison medical staff was 100% liable for the delay in diagnosing Zacchi's cancer and for the serious problems that resulted from the delay. Zacchi was awarded $800,000 for his injuries.

Zacchi was represented by Thomas P. Giuffra of the New York City law firm Rheingold, Valet & Rheingold. See: Zacchi v. State of New York, Court of Claims, Rochester, Case No. 102845. g

Source: VerdictSearch New York Reporter

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Related legal case

Zacchi v. State of New York