Winning a Law Suit Means Paying Hospital Bills in New York

Filed in Gather News Channel by on December 28, 2010 0 Comments

A law suit means paying hospital bills from the institution that was the target of the suit in New York State.

A mentally ill patient who had been living in and out of a psychiatric institution for 15 years sued the State of New York after an infection was left unattended until it spread to his brain and other organs and he was discovered unconscious.  He might have won what the New York Times called a “sizable award,” but the state countered with a demand for reimbursement of $1.7 million for 10 years worth of care he had received.  The judge sided with the state and the patient, Daniel J. Langevin, got nothing.

Mentally ill patients who suffer abuse or neglect, can have any award from a law suit  taken to pay for the care at the institution which caused the injury, as contrasted with the prison system, where the inmates are able to keep an award from a lawsuit.

Leo G. Finucane, the lawyer who represented Mr. Langevin said, “I need to go to this facility because I’m sick. But if they hurt me worse, they’re immune.”

Patients found to have assets will be pushed to pay and an award from a lawsuit would be an asset; it does seem cold hearted to grab awards because of abuse, neglect or injury suffered within the institution.  

According to New York Times, New York seems to be particularly harsh about this practice, as stated by lawyers who represent the mentally ill.

“I’ve done this work since 1986, and New York has had the reputation of doing this far more than any other state in the country,” Susan Stefan, a lawyer said.

In Oregon, the state forced a patient to hand over 80% of a settlement he received from the Roman Catholic Church as a victim of sexual abuse.  But in 1999, Oregon amended its law to keep the state from attaching funds for hospital bills that patients win in suits against the state itself for neglect.

For a 20-year-old female who was raped at South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island in 1992, winning a lawsuit meant paying the hospital.  A judge deducted $101,000 out of her $250,000 judgment.  The rationale behind this is that the hospital might be negligent on some days and provide valuable services on other days.

There are caps in place, thanks to a 1986 ruling.  The limit is only to the amount that the patient recovered.  Anything higher might deter a person from suing because they might end up worse off.

If the state forces the patient to pay for services out of the judgments, then there is not a real incentive for the institutions to work to avoid situations where patients might suffer injury.  And failure to protect patients is in a sense rewarded.


Photo: Daniel Langevin and his Mother, from NYTimes

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