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The Real Costs of Medical Malpractice

Lavern’s Law, a bill sponsored by the majority of the New York State Senate which would have helped countless victims of medical malpractice receive justice in court, passed the Assembly with “overwhelming bipartisan support” and was endorsed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. However, this summer, Senate majority leader John J. Flanagan (R-NY) effectively killed the bill by not allowing an official vote.

The bill was named for Lavern Wilkinson, a woman from Brooklyn whose curable lung cancer was left untreated when Kings County Hospital doctors did not alert her of a “suspicious mass” identified by an X-ray taken three years prior; this resulted in Lavern’s death. Her daughter was then barred from filing a negligence lawsuit against the hospital because, in the state of New York, a victim must file a lawsuit within two and a half years of the time of the medical mistake rather than the time when the error “was discovered or should have been discovered.” The latter, which seems more reasonable, is the law in 44 U.S. states, and Lavern’s Law was dedicated to adding New York to that list.

Hospitals can be dangerous places, no matter how important it is that we are safe and secure within them. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences published a study in 1999, titled “To Err is Human,” which found that patient deaths in hospitals due to medical errors exceeded 44,000 per year; in 2011, the journal HealthAffairs found that the number of “avoidable deaths” may be ten times higher than that. Injuries due to negligence, meanwhile, are believed to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Much of the opposition to Lavern’s Law came from health care/hospital lobbyists, supposedly concerned that it would create more lawsuits for medical malpractice. It’s important to note, however, that very few medical malpractice cases result in a legal claim; a 2013 study put the rate at about 1%. Also, of about 7,400 formal complaints against New York-based doctors from 2011 to 2013, less than 4% – only about 287 per year – actually resulted in serious sanctions, such as the restriction, suspension, or forfeit of a physician’s license.

It is Albany’s shame that Lavern’s Law was not put to a final vote despite its impressive momentum and bipartisan support, but its cause continues to show promise: it is estimated that only 6% of all doctors are responsible for up to 58% of all medical malpractice claims between 1991 and 2005, and state licensing agencies have plenty of room for improvement at keeping the “worst of the worst” out of formal practice. The lobbyists will never go down without a fight, but New Yorkers and all Americans alike will continue to fight against medical malpractice until laws like Lavern’s Law are established in each of the remaining states.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice or negligence, contact Mike Agruss Law, LLC for a free consultation. We are a Chicago-based injury law firm representing individuals (and their families) who have suffered an injury in an accident. We will handle your case quickly and advise you every step of the way, and we will not hesitate to go to trial for you.

Lastly, Mike Agruss Law is not paid attorneys’ fees unless we win your case. Our no-fee promise is that simple. You have nothing to risk when you hire us – only the opportunity to seek justice.

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