In 2010, Lavern Wilkinson, a 41-year old single mother, checked into Kings County Hospital with complaints of chest pain. After an EKG and chest x-ray were ordered, Lavern was sent home and advised to take Motrin. A radiologist noted a 2 cm mass in her right lung, however, Lavern never received the results. She went home without an answer.
In May 2012, Lavern returned to the same hospital complaining of a chronic cough. A chest x-ray showed that the 2 cm mass had spread to her lungs, her liver, brain, and spine. Lavern had terminal lung cancer. Had her cancer been discovered during her first visit in 2010, Lavern may have been cured with surgery. She was told by an attending physician at KCH that the hospital had failed to properly identify the cancer and was given just six months to a year to live.
Lavern sued and won a $625,000 settlement from the borough of Brooklyn, NY--a fraction of the possible $10 million that would have been awarded with a negligence suit,according to NY Daily News. After learning about her cancer two years after her initial visit at the hospital, Lavern was bound by the state statute of limitations which requires patients to file suit within 15 months from the time of the medical error. By the time Lavern was properly diagnosed, the window of opportunity had closed.
Lavern, an active member of her church and the single mother of a mentally disabled 15-year-old girl, lived for 10 months before she was moved into hospice care. Lavern passed away in March 2013 surrounded by family, friends, and church members.
The death of Lavern spurred legislation named "Lavern's Law" that would extend the 15-month statute to protect victims of medical malpractice and negligence. The bill was sponsored by a majority of the New York State Senate and was endorsed by Gov. Cuomo, however, Senate majority leader John J. Flanagan wouldn't allow the bill to be voted on. Today, the archaeic 15-month statute of limitations still remains.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences published a study,"To Err is Human," that contained alarming statistics about medical malpractice in hospitals. As of 1999, 44,000 patients were killed (and many more injured) a year due to medical errors. In 2011, a HealthAffairs study estimated that the number of avoidable deaths was probably ten times higher. Negligence runs rampant in hospitals, but its victims are rarely given the chance to seek justice for their injuries.
The New York Times reports that the opposition to Lavern's Law was primarily from the hospital and health care lobby, which believes that the bill may result in more medical malpractice lawsuits. Despite this belief, very few acts of medical malpractice are reported. According to a 2013 study, only about one percent of medical errors result in a claim. Most complaints against physicians and healthcare workers are regarding improper prescribing, sexual misconduct and fraud. Of these complaints, less than four percent resulted in any serious repercussions for the physicians.
The failure of Lavern's Law shows that hospitals often fail to protect their patients. More often than not, hospital patients may be unaware of the neglect or malpractice that may have cost them their lives. Even today, compensation is the only way our system allows victims to recoup what they have lost. In New York, six medical malpractice judgements must be made before a state medical licensing agency will do a review. With improved state licensing agencies and protective legislation, hospitals can be held accountable for the irreversible errors they frequently make, but if laws such as Lavern's Law fail to pass--patients will remain unprotected.
Photo Provided Courtesy of the NY Daily News