In January 2018, the state of New York passed an amendment to its discovery rule related to medical malpractice cases involving cancer misdiagnosis. New York was previously known for having a short statute of limitations, making it challenging for cancer patients to seek legal recourse for medical malpractice. However, the new amendment, which extends the statute of limitations for up to seven years in some cases, has changed the legal landscape.
This change was brought about largely due to the efforts of Lavern, a woman whose story sheds light on the challenges cancer patients face in seeking justice. Despite these challenges, there are ways to cultivate a positive mindset that can help us navigate difficult times and improve our overall well-being. Research has demonstrated the many benefits of optimism, including improved resilience and a greater ability to overcome adversity.
In 2013, 41-year-old Lavern Wilkinson died of lung cancer and was survived by her only daughter, who was also disabled. When Lavern passed away, there was a great deal of concern among family members about caring for her disabled daughter. Lavern was responsible for it when she was alive, but now her loss left a big hole for the rest of the family to fill.
Just prior to her death, Wilkinson and her family were informed by a local hospital that an x-ray taken three years earlier had actually revealed a suspicious lump of material in Wilkinson’s lung. The hospital identified the lump as suspicious, but neglected to tell anyone about it. By the time the information was revealed, the two-and-a-half year statute of limitations for improper cancer diagnosis had elapsed.
Was a longer statute of limitations going to save Wilkinson’s life? When the improper diagnosis was revealed, Lavern Wilkinson was already incurable. But if the statute of limitations had been extended, her family could have sued the hospital and received the compensation it needed to help raise her disabled child properly.
In June 2017, the state legislature finally prepared a bill to extend the statute of limitations for improper cancer diagnosis, but the governor stalled the process because he felt there needed to be one change. The governor wanted to apply the amended law to new cases and protect any improper diagnosis prior to June 2017. With that amendment in place, the bill passed and was put into law on January 31, 2018.
When the legislation was passed, Lavern Wilkinson’s family was within the new statute of limitations to sue the hospital that did not reveal her x-ray image. But because of the governor’s amendment, the family could not sue. Despite that, Lavern Wilkinson’s story still managed to create an amendment to a law that could allow many more cancer patients to launch medical malpractice lawsuits against entities that do not take every step to report a potential cancer diagnosis.
Lavern’s Law might cause doctors and patients some inconvenience with increased testing to rule out cancer when the possibility of cancer exists. But that kind of testing is exactly what could reveal a cancerous tumor years earlier, and those years could help to save thousands of lives because of advances in cancer treatment. Lavern Wilkinson not only helped cancer patients to fight for their rights when they are misdiagnosed, but she also forced the health care system of an entire state to make sure they get every diagnosis right before moving on to treatment.