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Hospital Closing Leave Many New Yorkers in a Lurch

The closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital has left yet another wounded group in the lurch – hundreds of New Yorkers who are suing the hospital for medical malpractice.  More than 260 people pursuing malpractice and negligence claims against the bankrupt hospital are in legal limbo.  With St. Vincent’s assets going to Bankruptcy Court, the victims may never see a penny in damages, sources told the Daily News.  The cases range from babies who suffered brain damage during delivery to patients who developed painful bedsores while hospitalized, lawyers said.

“This is a second nightmare for those families, who have already suffered at the hands of negligent physicians at St. Vincent’s Hospital,” said Jeffrey Korek, a lawyer with Gersowitz, Libo and Korek, which has six pending cases against the shuttered hospital.  Hospital leaders voted to close St. Vincent’s last month in the face of a crippling $1 billion debt. The hospital filed for bankruptcy a short time later, as payments to creditors loomed.

St. Vincent’s was primarily self-insured against medical malpractice claims with a special trust fund set up to protect the hospital, officials said.  Hospital officials refused to say how much money is in the trust.  Many believe it’s underfunded by $150 million to $250 million – and its holdings would first be doled out to priority creditors rather than potential victims.

“I think that $150 million is a woefully low estimate,” said Richard Kanowitz, a lawyer with Cooley, Godward Kronish.  “There are a lot of serious injuries and deaths that will go unremedied, and the people who are entitled to money and need money for care will not get it,” he said.

Many of the malpractice cases are in pretrial or the trials already have begun. Others have been settled or ruled on, but have not yet been paid – and may never be.  Lawyers for St. Vincent’s did not return phone calls for comment, but hospital spokesman Michael Fagan said officials are reviewing claims.  Fagan said the hospital had some third-party insurance, but he could not say how much – if any – would cover medical malpractice claims.  Families of victims, dead or alive, have no recourse except to wait and see whether the sale of St. Vincent’s real estate holdings will produce enough cash to trickle down to them.

The same is true for malpractice victims at St. Vincent’s defunct sister hospitals, such as Mary Immaculate in Queens, which closed early last year.  One such case involves the family of Shenika Babb, who won a $5.3 million jury verdict after a faulty defibrillator failed to stop her mother’s fatal heart attack.  The struggling family hasn’t received a single dollar, said Babb, who was left to care for her seven siblings when her mom died.  “It’s just sad, very, very sad, because we need the money for my sister and for tuition. I’m just going to pray for financial aid,” she said.

Other victims represented by Korek include a man who was mistakenly told he had AIDS.  “He thought he was going to die,” Korek said. “These cases are all stayed. They can’t go forward.”

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