January 19th, 2018

Lavern’s Law Will Save New Yorker’s Money (Updated!!!)

Lavern Wilkinson, who lost her chance for justice before she even knew she had that chance.

Dear Gov. Cuomo:

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about why you should sign Lavern’s Law, which has been sitting on your desk for weeks now as the only bill out of 600+ that you’ve failed to act on from last year’s legislative session.

But in my list of reasons to sign a bill that starts the statute of limitations in failure-to-diagnose-cancer cases from the date the malpractice is discovered (as opposed to when the malpractice happens) I neglected to mention one thing.

Lavern’s Law will save taxpayer funds.  As it stands now, if someone loses the right to sue before they ever even knew that malpractice occurred, there’s a pretty good chance that Medicaid will pay out much of the medical expenses. And those kinds of expenses can add up.

But if suit is permitted then much of the money can be recovered from the people actually responsible for the unnecessarily diminished health of the patient.  Medicaid often recoups money paid out from such lawsuits.

And the best part, from Medicaid’s perspective, is that a private attorney is doing all the work. There is virtually no cost to the state other than contacting us every so often to find out the status of the suit, and settling up if the recovery is partial.

So the question is — aside from the moral and public policy issues I already addressed — who should bear  responsibility for the medical costs of malpractice? The party that was negligent? Or the taxpayers?

There are reasons this bill enjoyed wide support from both Democrats and Republicans and why similar laws exist in 44 states. Yes, that’s right, even deep red states have such laws.

But not New York.
———-

Updated (1/30/18)!  Gov. Cuomo has agreed to sign Lavern’s Law and it will happen today!

As with many laws, there is an issue of, “When does this become effective?” The very powerful health care lobby was concurred that malpractice from 5 years ago — if it hadn’t been discovered until after the statute of limitations had expired — would now become actionable.

The bill was, therefore, tinkered with a bit for past acts of malpractice, so that it would no longer allow patients to revive already-expired claims that occurred up to seven years prior. Instead, a patient could file for a cancer claim that expired within the last 10 months and file the claim for an additional six months.

But on the whole, a big victory for civil justice. The Daily News, which has long championed this legislation, has an editorial celebrating the event, writing:

It took too long — indeed, far longer than the time stingily allotted Lavern — but first the Assembly, then the Senate had the wisdom to open New York’s lawsuit window despite opposition from the hospital lobby.

The version of the legislation to earn Cuomo’s signature will include adjustments to be passed this week at the governor’s insistence. Albany being Albany, the bill that passed both houses of the state’s Legislature wasn’t good enough for the governor, so Cuomo brokered a deal with legislative leaders to force through amendments.

Oddly, the law will only cover malpractice related to cancer. Why? Malpractice comes in all forms. Fix that, stat.

It’s also a shame that Cuomo doesn’t dare open the door to past patients, beyond 10 months ago.

Still, take comfort that Lavern smiles down on all who trust their lives to medical professionals sometimes fatally imperfect. Her law and legacy demand they do better.

 

 

January 2nd, 2018

Will Gov. Cuomo Sign Lavern’s Law?

Yes, a real case. Yes, the x-ray hangs in my office.

There is one bill on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk from last year. Just. One. Bill.

There were 606 bills that passed by both of New York’s legislative houses. All have been signed, or vetoed.

Except for Lavern’s Law. A law that Cuomo previously stated that he supported and would sign.

It was finally sent to the Governor during the holiday week for signature. He has 30 days to sign it.

As I bang on this keyboard, it sits on his desk.

Lavern’s Law, for those that don’t know, mimics the law in 44 other states, extending the statute of limitations in certain medical malpractice cases from the time the discovery of malpractice was made, or could reasonably have been made, instead of when it occurred

In the final hours dickering over the bill last June, it was watered down to apply only to cancer cases, leaving all other “failure to diagnose” cases, where the patient didn’t even know s/he was victimized, hanging out in the cold.

But still, even in its watered down state, it is something for those that have not only been victimized by malpractice, but didn’t even find out until the time to bring suit had expired.

As I previously described it:

The law is named for Lavern Wilkinson, who went to Kings County Hospital on February 2, 2010 with chest pain. A radiologist saw a suspicious mass on the x-ray. But Wilkinson wasn’t told.

When it was found again two years later when her complaints worsened, the 15-month statute of limitations had expired. As per the Daily News summary of the incident:

A chest X-ray found the cancer had spread to both lungs, her liver, brain and spine. The disease was now terminal.

She left behind family including an autistic daughter.

Lavern Wilkinson, who lost her chance for justice before she even knew she had that chance.

The bill passed the Assembly. Then it passed the Senate 56-6, that being the tougher of the two houses.

Why hasn’t the bill been signed?

It can’t be due to insurance premiums because, after all, the state’s largest insurer is being sold to Warren Buffet because it’s so damn profitable.

And at just 2 ½ years for suits against non-governmental medical facilities, we already have one of the shortest statutes of limitations in the country (and 15 months against governmental facilities) since we have no date of discovery statute.

And with some of the lowest legal fees for attorneys, the medical community has already been granted widespread de facto immunity for most acts of malpractice — since taking smaller suits simply isn’t financially economical.

And it can’t be because of a lack of caps on malpractice cases, because we not only have them, but have had them for over 200 years.

New York has become, with some of the best medical care in the world, one of the absolute worst places with respect to finding justice when that care goes wrong.

And all this happens despite medical liability insurance premiums and premiums continuing to plummet, and the costs of insurance as a percentage of healthcare costs likewise continuing to drop. From a Public Citizen study in 2017 (The Medical Malpractice Scapegoat), look at these three charts:

Under what justification does a state close the courthouse doors on its citizens before they even knew they were injured?

Under what logic do we grant further immunity to those that commit preventable harms?

For what public policy reason do we continue to withhold justice?

This bill enjoys widespread support among voters, as demonstrated by the overwhelming vote in the Senate.

It is long past time that New York get a date of discovery law. There are no reasons not to do it.

Gov. Cuomo, please sign that bill.

See also (1/19/18): Lavern’s Law will also save New Yorkers money

 

December 6th, 2012

An Open Letter to Gov. Cuomo On Filling Two Court of Appeals Seats

Gov. Cuomo:

You now have two spots to fill on New York’s Court of Appeals, as a result of the retirement of Judge Carmen Ciparick at the end of this year and the untimely death of Judge Theodore Jones last month.

There is now a list available of seven candidates for the first slot, that of Judge Ciparick.

It isn’t my intention to parse that list here, or the next list that comes out with respect to the late Judge Jones. Rather, it is to remind you that New York has a long tradition of elevating practicing lawyers, and judges that used to be practicing lawyers, to high positions.

While this would seem to be pretty obvious — who but a practicing lawyer could appreciate much of the procedural nuance and nonsense that takes place — it bears repeating due to the stark contrast with the US Supreme Court and the national political stage.

Back in 2009 President Obama needed to fill the seat vacated by Judge Souter. Before he selected Sonia Sotomayor, I wrote about the need for having lawyers who had once practiced in the private sector up on the bench. I called that The Tissue Box Test, based on lawyers knowing what it is like to have sobbing clients in the office, and trying to deal with the legal issues that brought them  there.

I urge you to read it.

But if you don’t want to click that link, this is snippet:

I want a nominee to know what it’s like to see real people — not political philosophies or corporate giants trying to add a few cents per share to their earnings — in their office in distress, and to represent them. I want a nominee that has experienced being the last, best hope for a downtrodden individual and the problem brought in the door. I want someone who knows what it’s like to be the underdog against corporate or government interests.

There is more at the link, and what I wrote back then still holds true today. It isn’t just political philosophy that is important, but having a true appreciation for the problems of desperate individuals trying to obtain a small bit of justice.

I hope that, as analysis of the judicial list goes on, that these will be considerations. For all of the judicial philosophizing in the world won’t make up for decisions that treat people as merely “interesting issues.”

In other words, beware those with a lifetime in academia. Beware those that never ran an office, worked on behalf of individuals or made a payroll. Beware those who have not had one-on-one dealings with those frantic for legal service.

And look for those that kept a box of tissues on their desks to hand to the clients in need.

Respectfully  yours,

–Eric Turkewitz

 

November 1st, 2012

New York Suspends Statutes of Limitations in Wake of Hurricane Sandy (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo visiting the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel

I was wondering when this would happen, but it finally has. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an Executive Order suspending the statute of limitations in a wide variety of cases, both civil and criminal. The term of the suspension is indefinite. This affects the time to bring a suit, the time to file an appeal, and the time to bring criminal prosecutions. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has acted also, extending the time to file a notice of appeal to some litigants.

The reasons should be obvious, but if you don’t live in New York, you might not appreciate what is going on. The courts in the city have fluctuated between closed and dysfunctional. Lawyers, staff and court personnel can’t reach offices as subway tunnels between the boroughs are still underwater, and buses and bridges are packed to the rafters. Many remain without power, or have become homeless as a result of the devastation.

A similar order was issued by Gov. George Pataki after the September 11 attack, for a period of 58 days.

New York, and our cousins in New Jersey, will get through the mess, though the damage to some families will be sadly permanent.

In the interim, the Governor has done the right thing to insure that artificially created time periods don’t unnecessarily injury the legal rights of others.

Pending cases are expected to be in disarray for awhile as the city gets back on its feet and gets its systems up and running, so that trials can be rescheduled.

Update 11/2/12 – The New York Law Journal has a story out today on the court disruptions, and lawyer groups mobilizing to assist victims. It also notes, among other things, that the Office of Court Administration, which is downtown, is closed due to flooding.

And there is this quote from New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman that I thought was worth repeating, given the comparison to September 11:

“You don’t have the tremendous loss of life that you had on 9/11, but in some ways the affected area is much larger,” Lippman said. “In 9/11, the immediate ‘frozen zone’ was identifiable. But here you have it all across the metropolitan area. You have this total failure of transportation, in electricity, in so many different areas that it is traumatic in a different way. The loss of life was so overwhelming on 9/11 and the act was so heinous that it is very different than an act of nature. But I think both are traumatic in their own ways.”

 

March 9th, 2012

Cuomo Attacks (Part of) No-Fault Fraud — An open letter to the Governor

Dear Gov. Cuomo:

First, let me tip my hat to you in going after No-Fault fraud, as you announced yesterday.  Your decision to shut down medical mills and strip the licenses of deceptive doctors that churn phony No-Fault claims is admirable. I know this follows on the dozens of arrests made last week by Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan for this type of conduct, coming from largely Russian-born individuals living in Brighton Beach.

But — and you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? — I think you have only addressed half the problem. And with No-Fault fraud now on your plate, I think I speak for many when I ask that you authorize a more comprehensive investigation.

For the problem of No-Fault fraud stems not only from doctors doing phony billing, but comes also from sham medical exams by insurance companies to deny benefits.

You see, in order to get No-Fault benefits, an injured person must be examined by a so-called “independent” doctor that is hired by the insurance company responsible for paying, and treatment authorized. But there are way too many accident victims who are denied those benefits after quickie 5-minute exams. In order to appreciate why that would happen, one only needs to understand a fundamental conflict of interest: The more denials a doctor issues, the more sought-after s/he is by the insurance companies for future exams. If you are the insurance company and knew Dr. Smith denied coverage 30% of the time and Dr. Jones denied it 90% of the time, wouldn’t you want to keep sending claimants to the one that saves you money?

New Yorkers surrendered certain rights with the birth of the No-Fault laws. We can no longer bring actions unless we have suffered a “serious injury.” In exchange, we are supposed to get guaranteed medical/economic benefits up to $50,000 in exchange for the premiums that we pay.

But what happens with this kind of insurance fraud? The insurance company benefits because many lawsuits can’t be brought and then a second time by stopping the benefits the claimants were supposed to receive.

Investigation of this fraud should be relatively simple, as you know from being our former Attorney General. If a doctor is seeing 10 patients in an hour for No-Fault exams, and churning out cookie-cutter denials, you can bet your last dollar that doctor isn’t doing it with the best interests of the patients in mind.

So I applaud your efforts to go after No-Fault fraud from those doctors running medical mills and over-billing. And if there are some attorneys in cahoots with the medical providers, go get them too.

But please don’t leave the legitimate auto accident victims, with legitimate injuries, out in the cold because of fraud being perpetrated from the insurance company end of things.

Respectfully submitted,

Eric Turkewitz