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N.Y. State Lawmakers Push For Change To Limitations On Medical Malpractice Suits

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- In the waning days of the Albany legislative session, it has become a political hot potato whether to give those misdiagnosed by doctors more time to sue for malpractice.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, it's called Lavern's Law, named for Lavern Wilkinson. The Brooklyn woman died of a misdiagnosed cancer in 2012.

The fate of Lavern's Law hangs in the balance, as Albany lawmakers prepare to end their session next week.

"What it does do is give people a day – an injured person – a day in court," said state Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn).

Weinstein, the sponsor of the bill for the Assembly, explained that Lavern's Law would simply give people more time to sue for malpractice.

The change is simple, she said. The 15-month statute of limitations would start when the error – the misdiagnosis – is discovered, not when the mistake occurred.

Michael Dreifuss lost his wife to a misdiagnosed cancer.

"By the time it was communicated, it was already Stage 4," Dreifuss told CBS2's Lou Young last year.
When Dreifuss found he had no legal recourse, he started pushing for a change in the law.

"Who knows the clock started when they missed it? How do you know they missed it?" he said last year.

But doctors said unless the bill is coupled with major changes in tort law, it will have a crippling effect – raising medical malpractice insurance rates that are already among the highest in the nation.

"This will drive doctors out of the practice of medicine," said Dr. Malcolm Reid, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York. "It causes many doctors to go to other states where they have meaningful tort reform – perhaps a cap on pain and suffering."

Reid said his group is trying to persuade the state Senate to hold off until there is a major overhaul of malpractice laws.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has lots of things he wants lawmakers to take up before they leave town, was noncommittal.

"Marcia, I think it's a good intent, and I understand the need to do it. The Senate is considering the bill," Cuomo told Kramer. "And if the Senate is serious about it, I'd love to have a three-way conversation."

Sources told CBS2's Kramer that no decision has yet been made about whether the Senate will take up the bill this year.

Assemblywoman Weinstein said her bill has 38 Senate sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats. She said that is enough to pass the bill if it is brought to a vote.

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