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New York Prisoner Awarded $2,225 for Denial of Dental Care

New York Prisoner Awarded $2,225 for Denial of Dental Care

by David Reutter

A New York Court of Claims awarded $2,225 to a prisoner who sued prison officials for medically negligent dental care for failure to extract a tooth for almost three months.

While imprisoned at the Elmira Correctional Facility (ECF) in late October 2006, state prisoner Theil Stapleton lost a filling in a lower left molar. He was given Motrin for pain on October 19, and a dentist prescribed an antibiotic for 10 days.

Stapleton returned to the ECF infirmary on November 9 complaining of severe tooth pain. He received another antibiotic and Tylenol 3. When he reported to the infirmary four days later, his left jaw was swollen and he had a dental abscess. He was prescribed anesthetic oral gel, an antibiotic and pain medication. On November 20, 2006 he was ordered to receive testing for a family history of thyroid disease and Type II diabetes, which were negative.

Stapleton returned to the infirmary reporting the same symptoms on December 15, but was not seen by a dentist. He was again prescribed an antibiotic. A dentist saw him on December 20, and determined that an outside trip to an oral surgeon was necessary to extract the tooth. Up to this point, the Court of Claims found the care provided to Stapleton was adequate.

However, from December 20, 2006 to March 19, 2007, the care provided was negligent. Stapleton was transferred from ECF to the Green Haven Correctional Facility, and the dentist at Green Haven found problems not only with the molar but with two other teeth that required extraction by an oral surgeon. Over the next few months, Stapleton continued to complain of pain, swelling and the abscess draining in his mouth. He continued to be prescribed antibiotics and pain medication but did not receive the recommended oral surgery.

Finally, on March 19, 2007, a general dentist extracted the molar. The state’s expert admitted that Stapleton’s dental care “could have been done better.” The Court of Claims noted that the need to extract the molar was “urgent,” yet Stapleton was left to suffer “excruciating tooth pain” for 89 days after it was determined he needed an extraction performed by an oral surgeon.

To compensate him for that suffering, the Court awarded him $2,225 plus recovery of the filing fee. Stapleton litigated his claim pro se. See: Stapleton v. New York, New York Court of Claims, UID No. 2013-044-003, Claim No. 113044.

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Related legal case

Stapleton v. New York