“The Court does not find this was merely an error of medical judgment,” wrote Judge Diane L. Fitzpatrick, “but rather deviation from the standard of care.”
Finding the state “100 percent” responsible for Black’s injuries, the judge awarded damages totaling $15,707,898, including $3.5 million for pain and suffering.
Black’s medical problems developed after he was injured during a basketball game in June 2006 at the Five Points Correctional Facility. At that time, Black told medical personnel he had collided with another player and “couldn’t move for 30-60 seconds.” Having complained of a “back strain” a few weeks earlier, Black wasn’t seen until July 6, 2006. X-rays taken later that month revealed only common “spurring.”
In November 2006, Black fell during another basketball game and was carried to the prison infirmary, where he was held overnight after complaining of numbness and tingling in his leg. A week later he was seen by Dr. Daniel Weinstock, the Facility Health Services Director. On November 20, 2006, Dr. Weinstock received MRI results which indicated Black was suffering from a chronic degenerative disc disease that was likely exacerbated by recent trauma. Actually, Black’s medical condition was causing compression of his spinal column – a serious condition that can result in irreparable injury.
Black was given a cane and returned to his housing unit.
On December 7, 2006, still using a cane, Black met with Dr. Weinstock and complained that he was in pain and felt like he was going to black out. Weinstock prescribed Neurontin, an anticonvulsant, as a pain reliever. According to a neurologist who testified at trial, Neurontin would not have alleviated Black’s pain but “only increased the likelihood [Black] would fall and suffer serious injury” due to the medication’s side effect of causing instability.
Finally, on December 18, 2006, Black fell in his cell and injured his head. The following day he underwent emergency surgery to remove parts of his vertebra, implant steel plates and relieve pressure on his spine. He is now confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, with no feeling from the chest down and severely limited use of his arms. He has no control over his bodily functions and is unable to perform sexually.
In her order awarding the $15.7 million judgment to Black, Judge Fitzpatrick found that Dr. Weinstock’s treatment was “particularly grievous.” Four days before Black’s fall, Weinstock failed to re-evaluate Black’s deteriorating condition and even denied his request for a wheelchair.
Finding that Dr. Weinstock had ignored Black’s rapidly worsening symptoms and “put his case on the back burner,” Judge Fitzpatrick held Weinstock’s treatment – or lack of same – increased the likelihood that Black would suffer injury. The court rejected the state’s claim that Dr. Weinstock’s malfeasance was “merely an error of judgment,” noting that “he prescribed a drug with side effects that can cause clumsiness and uncoordination in a man already unsteady on his feet.” Further, delays in sending Black to a neurologist for further evaluation, when Dr. Weinstock was alerted to a serious medical issue, were “solely attributable to [the state’s] failure to recognize the urgency and risks of [Black’s] condition.”
As Black was incarcerated under the custody of the state, he “could not seek a second opinion or pursue other treatment options.” Under such circumstances, Judge Fitzpatrick held, significant damages were warranted. Black was represented by the law firm of Franzblau Dratch, PC. See: Black v. State of New York, New York State Court of Claims, Claim No. 115567, UID 2012-018-305.
Following the March 30, 2012 judgment, Black applied for medical or compassionate parole under recently-expanded state eligibility rules, which allowed for early release for certain chronically ill prisoners. However, his application was denied because the parole board found he had “no remorse” for his crime of conviction.
Black was released on regular parole on November 1, 2013 and died four days later. According to one of Black’s attorneys, Stephen Dratch, the state has appealed the $15.7 million judgment and the appeal remains pending. Even if the judgment is affirmed on appeal, it will be significantly reduced because the amounts awarded for future medical care and future pain and suffering are no longer applicable due to Black’s death.
A search of the online database for the New York State Department of Health’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct found that no disciplinary action was taken against Dr. Weinstock for his failure to provide adequate treatment to Black, which resulted in his serious injuries that may have contributed to his eventual death.
Additional sources: www.corspecops.com, New York Times, www.syracuse.com
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