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New York: $450,000 in Awards to Two Prisoners for Failure to Treat Muscle Tears

New York: $450,000 in Awards to Two Prisoners for Failure to Treat Muscle Tears

by David Reutter

A New York Court of Claims has awarded $250,000 to a former prisoner in a lawsuit claiming inadequate treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon, and $200,000 to another prisoner for a torn biceps in an unrelated incident.

While playing basketball on December 26, 2009 at the Sussex Correctional Facility in Georgetown, prisoner Johann Becoate heard a “pop” in his right calf as he turned to get a rebound. Afterwards, he could not walk on, move or bend his right ankle and foot. A guard escorted him to his dormitory and gave him ice with instructions to rest because there was no medical staff at the prison on the weekend.

Two days later and several times over the next few weeks, Becoate was seen by nursing staff, which administered ibuprofen for pain and ordered light duty. It was not until January 14, 2010 that he saw Dr. Grabo, who diagnosed a possible Achilles tendon tear. While Dr. Grabo referred Becoate for both an MRI and orthopedic consult, he failed to perform a standard Thompson squeeze test to determine if a tear or rupture was present.

The MRI was performed on January 26 and found a “prominent tear.” Dr. Grabo, however, did not review that report until almost a month later. Becoate was then seen by Dr. Rubinovick, an orthopedic surgeon, on March 5, 2010. He performed the Thompson test, which did not indicate a current tear or rupture; Rubinovick attributed that to healing with scar tissue and ordered physical therapy.

The therapy did not begin for another month, and the therapist requested it be extended after eight weeks. That request was denied without an explanation. Becoate was released from prison on June 24, 2010; he testified that he always feels pain, and “It’s like I’m walking with a vise grip squeezing my leg.” He said he was unable to perform his job as a barber because he can’t stand all day, nor can he participate in sports activities.

The Court of Claims found, based upon expert testimony, that the Thompson test is the classic procedure to diagnose a ruptured Achilles tendon, and the usual treatment is surgical repair. The Court held the state was 100% liable for failing to treat Becoate in a timely manner and to refer him for a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon to repair his ruptured Achilles tendon.

The Court awarded $100,000 to Becoate for his past pain and suffering, plus $150,000 for future pain and suffering. See: Becoate v. New York, New York Court of Claims, UID No. 2013-040-044, Claim No. 118847.

In an unrelated case, New York state prisoner Philip Bartomeo, Jr., 47, was operating a buffing machine on October 5, 2007 at the Marcy Correctional Facility when the machine took off, moving to his left. Bartomeo heard a “pop” and felt shooting pains down the inside of his left arm.

A nurse diagnosed the injury as a broken blood vessel. He was given ice packs and Motrin. Two days later, his left arm had turned black from his biceps down to the wrist, and he was sent to the clinic. A doctor diagnosed a torn biceps muscle but refused Bartomeo’s request to see a specialist, telling him “The state would not pay it unless [Bartomeo] was a sports star.” Efforts to obtain treatment through sick call requests and grievances were fruitless.

A June 2008 transfer to the Oneida Correctional Facility resulted in Bartomeo being referred to a specialist. By then, the best that could be done was a “salvage procedure” operation.The Court of Claims accepted expert testimony that for a successful outcome of a torn biceps, surgery must occur within a few weeks of the injury. The 10-month delay in making a proper diagnosis resulted in Bartomeo’s biceps muscle becoming “fibrotic or filled with scar tissue”; as a result, it had bunched up and could not be reattached to its original position.

Bartomeo, who was released in 2009, said he still experienced shooting pains and was unable to return to his work as an electrician because he had difficulty handling heavy machinery and performing work over his head.

The Court awarded him $125,000 for past pain and suffering plus $75,000 for future pain and suffering. See: Bartomeo v. New York, New York Court of Claims, UID No. 2013-040-026, Claim No 117217.

Both Becoate and Bartomeo were represented by attorney Brian Dratch.


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Related legal cases

Becoate v. New York

Bartomeo v. New York