Will "Lavern’s Law" finally be approved by New York legislators?

A bill seeking to change New York’s statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases may help cancer victims.

While the U.S. is believed to have one of the finest forms of medical care in the world, doctors still make mistakes which can lead to irreparable damage. These mistakes can include wrongful diagnosis, the administration of the wrong medication, a surgical procedure performed on the wrong side of the body, a retained foreign object after surgery or failure to follow through on a patient's care.

Under New York law, victims of medical malpractice must file a lawsuit within two and half years from the date that the error occurred, according to the New York City Bar. This means if a person doesn't know about the mistake until close to that deadline or after, the victim is out of luck when it comes to trying to collect compensation for the harm caused.

Failure to diagnose cancer

In February 2010, a woman walked into Kings County Hospital, complaining of chest pain. According to the New York Daily News, she was sent home with a directive to take an over-the-counter pain killer. However, during that hospital visit, staff took an X-ray of her chest and an EKG. The woman returned to the same hospital in May 2012 with a chronic cough after having sought medical treatment for her condition from other doctors.

The doctor during this visit went back and looked at the X-ray to discover that a terrible mistake had been made. The radiologist had noted that there was a small suspicious nodule in the woman's right lung. No one had followed up on that with any tests or told the woman. Unknown to her, the nodule had been the first sign of lung cancer, and by this time, it had spread throughout her body, including her brain and vital organs. She died less than a year later. Had the cancer been identified in 2010, experts point out it would have been treatable and she would have had a 75 percent chance of being cured.

Lavern's Law

By the time the error was discovered, the state's timeframe for filing a lawsuit had expired. While the woman did receive a settlement of over $600,000 for the fatal mistake, legal and medical professionals estimate that she should have received a multimillion-dollar compensation, especially as the woman had a severely disabled teen daughter.

As a result of the travesty of the situation, New York lawmakers introduced a bill named "Lavern's Law" which seeks to change the statute of limitation to the date that the patient finds out about the error - not when the error actually occurred. CBS New York points out that this would benefit many cancer patients where errors are not discovered till years later. The bill failed to pass in the previous two years but has passed the state Assembly this year. It is currently under review by committees.

For victims of medical errors, the effects of a hospital or doctor mistake may affect them for the rest of their lives. Therefore, if people think they have been injured by a medical professional's actions, they should consult with an attorney as soon as possible.