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$90,000 Awarded to New York Prisoner for Delay of Surgery

A New York Court of Claims has awarded a prisoner $90,000 in a medical malpractice claim stemming from prison personnel delaying surgery, causing lasting injury and pain.

The claim was brought by Sing Sing Correctional Facility prisoner Jonathan D. Long, who was hit by an errant softball on the left side of his face on May 30, 2002. Long received an audiovisual examination, resulting in a diagnoses of a contusion. Pain medication, ice packs, and x-rays were ordered. Prison medical personnel, however, identified that Long had a zygomatic arch fracture, which is the prominent portion of the cheek bone.

As a result, Long was sent to St. Agnes Hospital. The next day, he was discharged with a depressed fracture of the zygomatic arch and surgery possibly ordered. On June 3, Long was released from the prison infirmary to general population. Between then and June 19, he was seen by prison dentists who ?really didn?t do anything.?

This was significant, for by June 19 Long had lost 25 to 30 pounds since the injury, he was experiencing trouble eating and could not keep his mouth shut. That is because when the zygomatic arch is depressed inward, the space between the zygomatic arch and the coronoid process of the mandible (part of the lower jawbone) is reduced, which prevents the jaw from opening and closing.

Surgery was not performed to correct the fracture until December 5. According to Long?s expert at trial, surgery for such an open reduction fracture should occur no later than 10 to 14 days post-injury. Ideally, it should be done within 24 to 48 hours because fibrous tissue develops, which will impair function of the lower jaw.

That expert, Dr. Frederick Meiselman, said that had surgery occurred within two weeks, an extra-oral (outside the mouth) operation known as a Gillies approach could have been performed. That procedure only requires 20 to 30 minutes to pop the arch back in place. Within days of that surgery, the patient is fully functioning.

The 6-month delay in surgery caused Long to endure two more extensive procedures, taking two hours to perform. Because one of those procedures required, it was more invasive and risked infection. Dr. Meiselman concluded the treatment Long received at Sing Sing was a deviation from reasonable medical care. The result of that care is that Long has numbness to his face from the surgery, experiences pain when he eats, slurs his speech, and cannot fully open his jaw.

Nonetheless, Dr. John Perilli, Sing Sing?s Health Service Director, contends Long received proper care. He approved the delay in care because it?s ?not a life threatening fracture? and ?it?s treated as a cosmetic defect.? The court found Dr. Perilli?s testimony ?to be cavalier in his characterization of claimant?s need for surgery and Perilli?s assumption that claimant would eventually be operated upon.?

The Court held the state must be held 100 percent liable for its own negligence in providing less than adequate care to Long. It awarded him $75,000 in past pain and suffering and $15,000 for future pain and suffering. Long was represented by attorney Robert W. Nishman. See: Long v. New York, N.Y White Plains Court of Claims, Case No: 2006-010-028, Claim No. 107435.

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Related legal case

Long v. New York