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$1 Million Award in New York State Prisoner’s Death Caused by Medical Malpractice

A New York Court of Claims has awarded $1,021,915.73 to the estate of a former prisoner who died as the result of a prison nurse and doctor departing from accepted standards of care.

Leonard Pickell arrived at New York’s Ulster Correctional Facility (UCF) on July 8, 2005. His medical records indicated he was diabetic, hypertensive and suffered from hepatitis C. In addition to having several herniated discs in his spine, Pickell also had a right drop foot.
Upon reception at UCF, Nurse Cheryllene Towner conducted a health screening and evaluation of Pickell. She wrote he did not have “a current health problem or complaint.” She did note, however, that he had a limp and a “[s]ore on foot.” Despite being aware that Pickell was diabetic, Towner did not conduct a physical examination or prepare a treatment plan.

Pickell’s next interaction with prison medical staff was on September 20, 2005. On that day he saw UCF Health Services Director Dr. Young S. Jun; however, Dr. Jun did not have Pickell’s medical records for review.

Not only did those records detail Pickell’s medical problems, but they mentioned the sore on his foot, which was a slow-healing ulcer on his right great toe. At trial, Dr. Jun tried to say the ulcer was “dry,” but his medical report stated it was “reddish and swelling.”

At that time Dr. Jun did not prescribe medication or diabetic foot care for Pickell. Dr. Jeffrey Levine later testified that that failure to provide treatment was a departure from the standards of care.

Redness and swelling in a diabetic foot ulcer presents a danger of rapidly ascending infection that may lead to septic shock, and a diabetic may not display the symptoms of an active infection such as fever and pain. Dr. Levine testified that the applicable standard of care would include establishing a baseline blood sugar level, administering a blood test to determine whether there was a hematological indication of infection, and ordering X-rays to determine whether the bone was implicated in the infection.

When Pickell saw Dr. Jun on October 11, 2005 the ulcer was much worse and exhibited a “purulent odor.” Dr. Levine said that was an “alarming situation.” Yet Dr. Jun did nothing but provide Silvadine ointment and order a culture. On October 13, Pickell was in “a life-threatening situation” after he was found unresponsive due to septic shock.

Over the next ten months he remained hospitalized. Pickell’s condition was still severe when he was released from prison in August 2006; he remained immobile and underwent numerous medical procedures before dying on June 13, 2007.

His estate filed suit, and the Court of Claims found that Nurse Towner and Dr. Jun had departed from the accepted standards of care, as established by expert testimony. The court further held that their “deviations from accepted standards of medical care and treatment were a proximate cause of the decedent’s injuries and death.”

On November 19, 2009, the Court of Claims awarded Pickell’s estate $700,000 for his pain and suffering; $96,915.73 in medical expenses; $25,000 to his wife for loss of consortium; and $30,000 in past loss of parental nurturing and $70,000 in future loss of parental nurturing to each of his two adult daughters. Pickell’s estate was represented by attorney Jonathan C. Reiter. See: Pickell v. New York, New York Court of Claims (Saratoga Springs), UID 2009-015-526, Claim No. 113130.

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Related legal case

Pickell v. New York