New Yorkers trust doctors to properly diagnose illnesses and conditions when their patients are suffering from negative symptoms. Unfortunately, doctors are human and just as susceptible to making mistakes as people in other professions. Misdiagnoses and other medical errors are all too common in the medical field, to the detriment of patients in every walk of life. This sad fact turned tragic for one New York woman, who received a series of misdiagnoses over a two-year period that failed to reveal a treatable cancer until it became terminal.
A Hospital’s Failure
According to New York Daily News, Lavern Wilkinson went to an emergency room in 2010, complaining of chest pain. During her visit, a chest X-ray showed a nodule on her right lung that was two centimeters in size. The radiologist recommended that further attention should be given to the nodule but no one ever followed up on the results of the test. A first-year resident diagnosed the patient with asthma and sent her home with instructions to take Motrin.
When the Brooklyn mother of two returned in 2012 to the hospital’s emergency room, a different physician went back to the original X-ray and noticed the nodule. Another chest X-ray revealed the cancerous growth had doubled in size. In 2010 the nodule had been in the beginning stages of lung cancer and was treatable. Over the next two years the cancer had spread into other parts of her body, including her brain, liver and spine. The doctors gave her six months to one year to live and the patient succumbed to her terminal cancer after a 10-month struggle.
New York’s Statute Of Limitations On Medical Malpractice
New York has several statutes regarding when a patient can file a lawsuit after suffering a medical injury. For hospitals owned by a municipality, such as is the case with Kings County Hospital, a patient must notify the hospital of the intention to sue only 90 days after the injury occurred. That lawsuit must then be filed within 15 months of the injury. This is an extraordinarily difficult timeframe to meet if a cancer is misdiagnosed.
Victims of medical malpractice that occur in privately owned hospitals are only able to file a lawsuit within two-and-a-half years from the time the mistake occurred. Unlike the vast majority of other states, New York does not have a “date of discovery” law, which allows a patient to file a lawsuit based on when the patient could reasonably have discovered the medical mistake.
Because Lavern Wilkinson did not find out about the mistake before the statute of limitations expired, she could not sue the hospital for the misdiagnosis. While the city eventually handed over a settlement of $625,000, her family may have been able to win significantly more compensation in a lawsuit.
In 2013 state legislators introduced a law to reform the statute of limitations on medical malpractice lawsuits (“Lavern’s Law”) but the bill did not garner enough support to pass. However, legislators told the New York Daily News that they will present the bill again in 2014. Several legislators expressed optimism that the bill is garnering support in the Assembly.
Medical Misdiagnoses Common
The National Center for Policy Analysis reports that misdiagnoses happen more often than commonly thought. Up to 20 percent of all medical cases involve a misdiagnosis and about 28 percent of these errors are serious enough to cause death, permanent disability or threaten the life of the patient.
The victim of a medical error may face various obstacles in recovery, including increased medical expenses, lost wages or even the loss of a loved one. People who believe they have suffered from medical malpractice should talk to an experienced attorney to discuss their legal options.