In 1999, a study published by the acclaimed National Academy of Sciences indicated that 44,000 people were being killed each and every year by medical errors in American hospitals. Twelve years later, another study by a well-known medical journal suggested as many as ten times that number might still be with us had it not been for errors or negligence committed by those tasked with their care.
The 1999 number alone gives us a staggering death toll. 120 people killed every day. 840 deaths per week that did not have to happen. 44,000 unnecessary funerals per year.
To consider a numbers ten times higher defies imagination. Yet, perhaps more incomprehensible is the efficiency with which the medical industry and healthcare lobby has been able to insulate itself from policies meant to avoid these unnecessary deaths.
One such example comes to light in a recent New York Times opinion piece. It tells the heartbreaking story of Lavern Wilkinson. Ms. Wilkinson allegedly died because a hospital failed to call her attention to, or treat, a mass on her lung that was visible by an X-ray. The mass was lung cancer but it was a curable form of the disease. Had treatment started, there was a very good chance that Ms. Wilkinson could have survived.
Instead, she died. When her daughter tried to sue the hospital for negligently causing her mother’s death, she was told that she was outside of the statute of limitations and had no recourse. The statute a limitations governs how much time a person has to file a lawsuit. It varies by state and the type of lawsuit. According to the article, the applicable New York law only gives two and a half years from the time a medical error is committed, and not from the time the error is actually discovered, to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
The effort to change that law would be taken up under the banner of Lavern’s Law. Lavern’s Law would bring New York to the standard that 44 other states recognize and uphold; that the injured should have time from the moment their injury is discovered, and not committed, to seek compensation for their injuries. Discovery of a medical error can take time and Lavern’s Law would have provided that time.
The change was supported by most of the New York legislature. Those on both sides of the aisle came together to voice their approval. The majority of the State Senate would support the law. The governor would endorse it.
But it would never come to a vote. Lavern’s Law would die in the Senate because Majority Leader John Flanagan (R), wouldn’t let it. The reason? A concern that extending the statute of limitations might lead to an increase in the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed.
Statistics show that passing measures such as Lavern’s Law leads to a marginal increase in malpractice claims, at best. And the outcomes of those claims are usually quite modest, especially when it is the victim that will be looking at a lifetime of care, medication, or pain as a result of their injury.
Victims of medical negligence and malpractice should not be limited by an arbitrary amount of time to discover their injury and those responsible for causing those injuries should not be allowed to “run out the clock.” We encourage the New York legislature to re-visit Lavern’s Law as soon as possible so that all of those injured at the hands of others can have their day in court.