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Lavern’s Law Fails to Pass in New York

In the last three years Brooklynite Lavern Wilkinson has been let down by nearly everyone she thought she could trust.

Back in February 2010 Lavern checked into Kings County Hospital with a chronic cough. The doctors ordered a chest X-ray that clearly revealed early stages of lung cancer. Only no one notified Lavern. Rather than immediately initiating treatment that may very well have saved her life, the doctors directed Lavern to take Motrin and sent her on her way.

Two years later, Lavern returned to the hospital because she was having difficulty breathing. It was then that her doctor took a look at the 2-year-old X-ray and identified her cancer. Unfortunately for Lavern, by this point she was already the victim of Stage 4 lung cancer with little hope of survival. Because of her first doctor’s failure to read the X-ray film correctly, Lavern had gone untreated for more than 2 years!Lavern has a 15-year-old severely autistic daughter to think about. Micalia Wilkinson is incapable of speaking, she requires 24/7 care and will for the rest of her life. When Lavern filed suit against Kings County Hospital, she hoped to secure enough money to take care of Micalia long after her own life has come to an end.

However, the law in the State of New York only gives medical malpractice victims one year and three months to sue the City of New York from the date of the malpractice. This law does not take into account when the medical error was discovered. In this case, the malpractice against Lavern occurred when the X-ray was initially misread, so Lavern’s time to sue expired long before Lavern even knew that a mistake had been made.

Fortunately, there was enough media coverage of her story that Lavern was offered a settlement of $625,000. While this number may seem sizeable, it is only estimated to secure care for Micalia through the age of twenty. It is devastating to think that had this incident taken place in any of the forty-four states with statutes of limitations that take into account when the error is first discovered by the victim, Lavern would have been able to secure the funding necessary to care for Micalia for the rest of her life.

Lavern died from her cancer earlier this year, and yet she was let down again last month when an amendment to the statute of limitations, recently dubbed “Lavern’s Law,” failed to come to a vote in the state legislature. Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein blames the law’s failure to gain traction in the Senate on the powerful lobbying of doctors and hospitals. It appears that the medical profession does not want to surrender their ability to avoid accountability for misread X-rays, Pap smears and the like, regardless of who they hurt.

Lavern’s experience is tragic and beyond fixing, but this doesn’t have to the case for patients in the future. If Lavern’s Law passes, it will ensure that victims of hospital negligence have their day in court and are not dismissed outright because of an antiquated law that predates the invention of X-rays.

Sources: NY Daily News, “Proposed Amendments to State’s Medical Malpractice Rules Dies in Albany” June 25 2013.

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