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16 Years of Failure to Treat Neurological Disorder Results in $48,000 Award

16 Years of Failure to Treat Neurological Disorder Results in $48,000 Award

by David Reutter

A New York Court of Claims awarded a prisoner $48,000 for pain and suffering caused by prison medical staff rendering inadequate treatment during his first 16 years of incarceration, “including a failure to maintain proper medical records, a failure to perform proper medical examinations, and a failure to refer ... for appropriate diagnostic testing.”

To protect the prisoner’s medical confidentiality, the court assigned him the pseudonym “J.W.” Upon J.W.’s reception to New York’s prison system, it was noted that he had a seizure disorder but was not receiving medication. At trial, the defendants asserted “there was no mention of seizures or dizzy spells in his ambulatory health records,” and to support that position they submitted records from the year prior to the filing of the claim.

J.W. countered by submitting his entire medical file, which contained at least 46 explicit notations of his complaints between December 1996 and January 2006 of seizures and blackouts that occurred numerous times a day. After J.W. advised the court his primary goal in filing suit was to receive treatment for his seizures, the parties agreed to allow time for the court to examine the documentation and for J.W. to receive a medical examination.

Two MRIs and other tests were conducted. The diagnosis was “likely seizure disorder,” which resulted in a medication prescription that substantially reduced J.W.’s symptoms. The court was highly critical of the prison medical staff’s failure to provide “even a minimally adequate level of care.”

In response to J.W.’s consistent complaints of dizziness and blackouts, no action was taken to look into the underlying cause until after a guard called medical in 2000. While the results of an EKG were normal, J.W. was given seizure medication for about one week and all treatment was discontinued thereafter.

His repeated complaints that followed were ignored, and he was told by two doctors that “he was imagining his symptoms, despite confirmation of those symptoms by [J.W.’s] psychiatric counselors.” Two state doctors admitted as experts conceded that a person with J.W.’s symptoms should have had “blood work [testing] and a complete physical exam.” If those were unremarkable, “it would next be appropriate to perform an EEG, an MRI, and possibly then seek a neurological consultation.”

The Court of Claims found the state 100% liable and awarded $48,000 to J.W. for pain and suffering attributable to the state’s failure to arrange appropriate testing, diagnosis and treatment that resulted in his having “countless seizures, dizzy spells, and blackouts.” J.W. litigated the claim pro se. See: J.W. v. New York, New York Court of Claims, UID No. 2013-044-005, Claim No. 111947.


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Related legal case

J.W. v. New York