(CN) - The New York prison system failed to prevent an inmate with a spinal condition from falling and becoming a paraplegic, an appeals court ruled.
Sergio Black was a healthy, 35-year-old ex-Marine who lifted weights and played basketball in prison.
After he began suffering injuries while participating in these activities in the summer of 2006, however, Black collided that November with another basketball player.
With the inmate's neck bent backward, the prison doctor diagnosed Black with a "stinger," a minor nerve injury to the spine, Black claimed.
Black said the doctor ordered an MRI when his condition failed to improve. It revealed that Black suffered from spinal stenosis and myelomalacia.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that puts pressure on the backbone. Myelomalacia is a softening of the spinal cord.
Before Black could undergo the neurological consultation that the doctor ordered, Black fell in his prison cell and became a paraplegic with limited use of his hands.
In Black's complaint against the state of New York for medical malpractice, his expert blamed the doctor for prescribing neurontin, which has a side effect of dizziness.
The expert added that Black was prone to falling because of his spinal condition even without medication.
A Court of Claims judge in Syracuse ruled for Black, who was released from prison shortly thereafter and passed away. His estate responded to the state's appeal.
On Feb. 13, the New York Appellate Division's Rochester-based Fourth Department upheld the trial court's ruling.
"Decedent's expert testified credibly, based upon his review of decedent's medical records and his examination of decedent, that the prison physician deviated from accepted standards of medical practice when he failed to recognize the urgency of decedent's condition and to make a prompt referral to a neurologist," the unsigned opinion states.