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New York Prisoner Awarded $335,000 for Non-Treatment of Fistula

On November 20, 2002, a state court of claims in Rochester, New York, awarded the estate of Olevia Ousley-Winters $335,000 after determining that prison doctors failed to properly diagnose and treat Ousley-Winters' medical condition. (Ousley-Winters died prior to trial, apparently from unrelated causes.)

While imprisoned at the Westchester County Jail in late 1990, Ousley Winters began passing fecal matter through her vagina. On May 15, 1991, a colonoscopy revealed the presence of a rectovaginal fistula (an abnormal passage from one body part or organ to another). After the colonoscopy, Ousley-Winters was transferred to the custody of the state of New York and shuffled through a series of prisons. She informed medical personnel at each prison of her condition.

Ousley-Winters was sent to a hospital in January, 1992, but tests failed to detect the fistula. However, in October 1992 the fistula was confirmed by a colonoscopy. Further tests were deemed necessary to precisely locate it. Another colonoscopy was performed in April 1993, yet no surgery was scheduled. Ousley-Winters submitted a grievance, but her transfer to another prison further delayed treatment. In November 1993 Ousley-Winters was released on parole and underwent corrective surgery one month later.

At trial, Ousley-Winters' medical expert, gynecologist Norman Reiss, testified that immediate surgery is called for anytime fecal matter is passed through the vagina and that a delay risks additional tissue inflammation and surgical complications as well as extending the period of time the patient would suffer from the burning, irritation, pain and horror' of the symptoms.

The State's medical expert claimed that it was difficult to diagnose fistulas, especially small ones like the one Ousley-Winters suffered from. The court rejected this contention holding that the relatively straightforward procedures employed at the Westchester County Jail demonstrate just how easily her condition could be verified.

As to the State's defense that its doctors had no knowledge of the results of the May 1991 colonoscopy, the court held that if this were true the adequacy of the medical care provided to Ousley-Winters' would have been called into question. According to the court, Any responsible physician who received information from a new patient that recent medical tests had confirmed an inherently distressing and potentially dangerous condition that required surgery would, without doubt, quickly attempt to obtain the easily available records of those recent tests and/or replicate the results of the rather simple tests ....

Based on the evidence, the court held that the State of New York's doctors failed to properly diagnose and treat Ousley-Winters' medical condition and awarded her estate $335,000 for past pain and suffering. Ruth A. Keyes of the New York City law firm Goldstein, Goldstein, Rikon & Gottlieb represented the Ousley-Winters estate. See: Estate of Ousley-Winters v. State of New York, Court of Claims, Rochester, Case No. 88454. g

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Related legal case

Estate of Ousley-Winters v. State of New York