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Legislature OKs more time to sue doctors in cancer cases

ALBANY — The deadline clock to sue a physician for malpractice in cases involving cancer or malignant tumors would begin once a patient discovers a problem under a bill given final legislative approval Wednesday.

Under current law, patients had to sue within 2 1⁄2 years of treatment.

The bill gives a patient 2 1/2 years from the date a patient discovers a problem stemming from malpractice. The bill would require malpractice claims to be filed no more than 7 years after the medical treatment.

The bill pitted the politically powerful and well-funded trial lawyers lobby against lobbyists for physicians, dentists, hospitals and insurance companies.

Opponents argue the measure would simply invite more lawsuits and raise malpractice insurance rates, which would increase consumer costs.

The bill approved this week now goes to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his signature to make it law or for his veto.

“I am hopeful that Gov. Cuomo will now sign this bill into law to help remedy an injustice in the law that has prevented injured patients from seeking legal redress,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), on Thursday.

Physicians and their advocates warn of a chilling effect.

“Doctors working to save the life of a trauma patient will now have to worry about potential diagnoses years down the road, rather than providing urgent, lifesaving care,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York. “This has nothing to do with safety, it is just another way for personal injury trial lawyers to cash in on lawsuits. . . . Lawmakers in Albany have laid the groundwork to turn New York’s medical care crisis into a full-blown catastrophe.”

“Patients who have been misdiagnosed should be able to have their case heard in court,” said Diane Dreifuss, 20, of Greenlawn. “If the governor signs this bill into law, New York will join 44 other states in protecting patients from medical negligence. It’s time for New York to stand up to the hospital CEOs who would rather protect their bottom line than patients.”

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