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New York Court of Claims Awards $1.75 Million to Prisoner’s Estate

Scott Degina, a New York state prisoner, sued the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) for damages as a result of negligent treatment of his severe urological problems. He further alleged that due to the negligence of prison medical staff, he suffered for years from undiagnosed urothelial cancer, which ultimately led to his premature death. After hearing testimony from Degina and various medical experts on both sides, Judge Frank Milano awarded $1.75 million to Degina’s estate on September 28, 2015.

While incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility in August 2009, Degina “presented himself to defendant complaining of severe abdominal pain, defendant transported him via ambulance to the emergency room of Champlain Valley Physician’s Hospital (CVPH) where he was examined and an abdominal CAT scan was performed.” The hospital diagnosed him with severe swelling of the left kidney as well as a mass that obstructed one of the ducts in the kidney. However, DOCCS medical staff failed to follow up on the hospital’s diagnosis and treat Degina for the obstruction.

According to Judge Milano, “The law is well settled ‘that where the State engages in a proprietary function such as providing medical and psychiatric care, it is held to the same duty of care as private individuals and institutions engaged in the same activity,’” citing Ratay v. State of New York, 223 A.D.2d 356 (1st Dept. 1996).

Degina’s medical experts testified that as a result of the prison staff’s negligence for 28 months after his initial diagnosis, he developed urethral cancer in the area of the previously diagnosed obstruction. The cancer later metastasized to adjoining lymph nodes, making surgery impractical. Degina endured months of debilitating radiation and painful chemotherapy, and died in May 2015 – four months before the court ruled in his favor. See: Degina v. State of New York, New York Court of Claims, UID No. 2015-041-514, Claim No. 122060. 

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Related legal case

Degina v. State of New York