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$15 Million Award for Prisoner Rendered Paraplegic Due to Medical Malpractice Affirmed

The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division has affirmed a $15 million judgment awarded to a prisoner who became a paraplegic due to a prison doctor’s malpractice.

Following the judgment by the Court of Claims, the State of New York appealed; PLN previously reported the judgment. [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.38].

The Court of Claims found that while at the Five Points Correctional Facility on November 8, 2006, prisoner Sergio Black snapped his head back when he collided with another prisoner while playing basketball. The injury rendered him temporarily unable to move, with numbness and tingling in his left leg.

Prison physician Daniel Weinstock oversaw the care that Black received, and described the injury as merely a “stinger” that would resolve itself in a few days. It did not, however, and an MRI was ordered. The MRI report was received on November 20, 2006, indicating a condition affecting Black’s spinal cord. Weinstock did not consider the findings emergent and recommended that a neurologist be consulted. While awaiting that consultation, Black fell in his cell, rendering him a paraplegic.

The Supreme Court Appellate Division noted that Weinstock admitted the condition revealed by the MRI – spinal stenosis – could lead to permanent paralysis, and considered the condition to be degenerative rather than acute.

Prior to the injury, Black, 35, was a Marine Corps veteran, lifted weights and played basketball regularly. After the injury, “he was in constant pain and had progressively increasing problems with mobility.” He was unable to walk without assistance and requested a wheelchair before his collapse on December 18, 2006 left him paralyzed.

Black “made repeated requests to discuss the MRI results with [Weinstock], and even sought the prison warden’s intervention regarding those requests,” wrote the Supreme Court. Yet Weinstock did not reevaluate Black’s condition to determine if it had worsened since the MRI.

The Court noted that Black’s medical record did not fully document his deteriorating condition, and attributed that shortcoming to Weinstock’s “failure to reexamine him or otherwise reevaluate his condition.” As such, the Court found support for the position of Black’s expert that the MRI and “accelerating nature of [his] symptoms” had demanded immediate action. Accordingly, the judgment by the Court of Claims was affirmed.

Black was released from prison, but died before the Supreme Court’s ruling. See: Black v. State of New York, 125 A.D.3d 1523, 3 N.Y.S.3d 837 (N.Y. App. Div. 4th Dep’t 2015). 

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Related legal case

Black v. State of New York