Legislature extends statute of limitations on some forms of medical malpractice

The Senate and Assembly passed a bill on Wednesday that would extend the statute of limitations on certain types of medical malpractice cases.

Known as “Lavern’s Law,” the legislation aims to aid cancer patients looking to file malpractice lawsuits by calculating the statute of limitations from the day of the discovery of malpractice, not from when it actually occurred.

In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Sen. John DeFrancisco, D-Syracuse, while in the Assembly it was sponsored by Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, D-Brooklyn.

The bill was first introduced during the 2013 session, and previously included all malpractice under the revised statutory law. However, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to bring the bill to the floor until a compromise was reached. Among outside groups, trial lawyers backed the bill while several health care organizations opposed it.

The bill passed on Wednesday night still ends the statute of limitations at seven years after the malpractice itself.

The law was named for Lavern Wilkinson, a Brooklyn resident who died in 2013 from a curable form of lung cancer. The cancer had appeared on a chest X-ray taken in 2010 at Kings County Hospital, when it was still able to be treated, but medical professionals failed to identify it.

By the time Wilkinson discovered the cancer herself, it was beyond treatment, but she could not sue the hospital for malpractice. New York law starts the statute of limitations on malpractice from the day it occurs, not when it is first discovered by the patient.

For private hospitals and practices, the statute of limitations ends two and a half years after the malpractice occurred. For public hospitals, such as Kings County, the statute ends after 15 months.

If Governor Cuomo signs the bill into law, New York will join 44 other states in starting the statute of limitations on the date patients first become aware of malpractice.