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$725,000 Award for Eye Loss Caused by Guard’s Assault

A New York Court of Claims awarded $725,000 to a prisoner who lost an eye after being attacked by a jail guard.

Prisoner Warren Davis, 31, suffers from keratoconus, a congenital eye condition in which the cornea changes from a spherical to a more conical shape, adversely affecting vision. The condition is usually treated with contact lenses, but sometimes progresses to the point where a corneal transplant is needed.

Davis underwent corneal transplant surgery on December 30, 2008. The procedure at the Westchester County Medical Center was successful; he was returned to the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where he was assaulted by a guard three weeks later.

According to Davis, he approached three guards sitting at a table and asked them to open a gate. After he stepped through the gate and started up some nearby stairs, one of the guards, identified only as Ortega, punched him in the back of the head. Ortega continued to hit and kick Davis as he lay on the stairs. When Davis told Ortega he had just had eye surgery, he was told to shut up.

During a liability trial, the Court of Claims found “there was no justification for the use of force against claimant on the date in question [and] ... no culpable conduct on claimant’s part contributed to the events.” A damages trial ensued.

Testimony from the doctors who treated Davis indicated that he was “doing well prior to the traumatic interruption of his recovery and his vision in the right, surgical eye had improved with no blurry vision.” In sum, Davis “was in the process of a full recovery from the corneal transplant.”

The assault by Ortega halted the recovery, and a surgical attempt to save Davis’ eye on January 20, 2009 failed a week later. The eye was removed and a prosthesis installed. Davis will require routine maintenance on the prosthesis every six months to avoid cracks and possible infection; he also needs to wear goggles to protect his remaining eye from injury.

There was no material dispute with respect to the medical testimony. The court, therefore, found the surgical removal of Davis’ right eye was the sole proximate result of the unwarranted assault by Ortega.

The Court of Claims awarded Davis $475,000 for pain and suffering associated with the assault, and for treatment of his resulting injuries and past loss of his right eye. It also awarded $250,000 for future damages caused by the eye loss. See: Davis v. New York, New York Court of Claims, UID No. 2014-029-038, Claim No. 116916.


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Related legal case

Davis v. New York