Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Friday, May 23, 2008

Web site planned

New Web page to list
malpractice claims

By David Baker
Posted Friday, May 23, 2008

Over the past month, summaries of a very few of the many medical malpractice lawsuits pending against Capital District medical providers have been presented here. Now details of the new Web page that will list these lawsuits have been decided.

* The page will list only lawsuits filed. It cannot and will not attempt to show the outcome of any suit.

* Lawsuits, once added, will remain permanently on the page.

* Lawsuits filed in 2005 and 2006 in Rensselaer and Albany counties will be added first. Then the list will expand back, a year at a time, to at least 2000, and then to filings in Schenectady County.

* All lawsuits will be added, whether they are active or concluded.

* The page will have two separate, prominent sections that will be directly accessible from the home page. One will highlight any lawsuit alleging one or more of the 27 “never events” (see below). Later, a second section will present new filings.

* The page will go online without any announcement on this page, which will now become dormant. At the appropriate time, steps will be taken to make the public at large aware of the new site.

* The page will have a link back to this page, where most of the items will remain but will be reorganized in a manner that will enable people to get full details of the case that led to the new site.

It is believed that new page will be the first of its kind in the nation, and that it will provide a permanent resource for those seeking information about specific Capital District providers, and, in time, as a data base of statistics on the numbers of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in a relatively self contained area of the country.

It is recognized that some lawsuits are filed in which there was no negligence. It is also true that because of the insurance companies’ aggressive defense of every claim, many more lawsuits that have merit end after years of brutal litigation without any compensation or closure for the victims. Some providers will be listed on the page when there was no negligence. That is a consequence of allowing insurance companies, on behalf of the provider, to deny and defend every claim.

Although insurance companies and lawyers make the decisions, it is the medical facilities and individual providers whose names appear on lawsuits, and will soon be listed on a readily accessible Web page It is hoped that those providers will be now prompted to reduce the number of lawsuits filed for medical malpractice.

The best and most obvious way to do this is to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by errors and negligence.

Next, they must insist that errors are acknowledged and where appropriate, reasonable compensation provided. Programs in other parts of the country have shown that most people don’t sue if errors are immediately disclosed. They sue when the provider appears to be hiding something.

Nothing will stop every error that leads to a bad outcome but acknowledging a mistake is the first step toward preventing it happening again and allowing everyone – victims and providers – to move on.

That must be better than continuing with the present system, which serves only to deny many injured people appropriate compensation while greatly enriching liability insurance companies and their lawyers.

(A “never event” is a list of events which the National Quality Forum says should never occur, and for which a growing number of health insurance companies are refusing to pay.

One of those never events is hypoglycemia – low blood sugar – that occurs while a person is a patient in a healthcare facility.

In 2003, Lisa Baker died three weeks after she was found in her bed in Samaritan Hospital near death and – according to the hospital’s own records – with a blood sugar of just 2 mg/dL.

Any measurement below 60 mg/dL is considered hypoglycemia.)


From the archives



This item was first posted on July 24, 2005

By David Baker

You would think that the immense financial and emotional cost of the unnecessary deaths of as many as 98,000 people a year in this country would be a tragedy for everyone involved, and for society as a whole. But a closer look reveals that in fact for many people and organizations, it is actually a benefit, and for some, even a source of significant income.

First, there are the hospitals and nursing homes where the errors take place. The people running these institutions claim to be trying to reduce the number of patients who are killed or injured. But, as a 2005 follow up study by the Institutes of Medicine found, the number of avoidable patient deaths has remained almost unchanged since 2000, when the Institute’s first study was released.

So while the quotes in newspaper stories sound good, the reality is that very little is being done to end the carnage. Evidently, it’s cheaper to hire teams of lawyers to beat off anyone who files a claim than it is to stop the cause of the claims in the first place.

And in some cases, a medical facility can actually reap a financial benefit from an alleged mistake. In Lisa’s case, Samaritan Hospital received about $73,000 for treating her for the ultimately fatal injuries she received while in the hospital’s care. That’s $73,000 the hospital would not have received if Lisa had gone home three weeks earlier, as she was expecting to do the day she was found almost dead in her hospital bed.

Next to gain are the insurance companies that provide coverage for medical malpractice. As is reported elsewhere on this page, many of these companies are making huge profits on the underwriting of malpractice insurance. Some of them are paying out as little as 10 cents for each dollar they collect in premiums. That’s even as they demand limits on malpractice lawsuits. If the number of medical errors had gone down significantly since 2000, these companies would not have been able to collect the 120 percent increase in average premiums that they demanded during that time, even as the amount they paid out in claims rose a mere 5.7 percent.

Then there are the state politicians who accept huge amounts of money from the medical community, and in return, keep laws regulating hospitals so weak that they are a joke. For example, as is noted on this page, the most a medical facility can be fined for a violation is a mere $2,000, even if the violation results in a death. That amount was last changed 15 years ago and attempts to get the Legislature to increase it have gone nowhere.

These people know who they really represent. And it’s not a helpless patient dying in her hospital bed.

Also winners are the managements of some newspapers, which have willingly abandoned their duty to inform the public, instead accepting a constant stream of revenue from medical facilities while routinely suppressing stories about lawsuits that allege medical negligence against those facilities.

And then there are the really big winners: The law firms that defend medical providers accused of causing a death or injury. Their job, at upwards of $275 an hour, is to do everything they can to cause delay, and to drive up the cost of bringing a lawsuit. With the immensely rich insurance companies paying the bill, they try to outspend and wear down a plaintiff and obstruct access to the facts, while at the same time adding to the enormous pain caused by the original error.

And all this, of course, is authorized by the managements of the insured medical facilities.

The same medical facilities that spend a fortune telling everyone how competent and caring they are.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Patient seeks good recovery

Lawsuit claim: Hospital’s
post-op care caused a fall

By David Baker
Posted Sunday May 18, 2008

A lawsuit filed by woman who claims she fell because she was not given enough time to recover after a colonoscopy is another entry for what will be a Capital Region medical providers’ version of a newspaper’s police blotter.

Catherine McKie of Albany filed the lawsuit in 2006 in state Supreme Court in Albany County against Albany Memorial Hospital and its owner, Northeast Health Inc.

McKie alleges that following the procedure, she was rushed through the recovery period and as a result, fell and was injured.

According to legal papers, the defendants “…were negligent, careless and reckless in allowing, instructing and/or allowing Plaintiff Catherine McKie to get out of the recovery bed and dress herself without adequate assistance when it was known, or should have been known, that her capacity to do so was limited by her age and physical condition and thereby causing her to fall and suffer serious and diverse injuries.”

The suit does not give McKie’s age.

McKie’s attorney is Jonathan Fairbanks of the Zwiebel, Brody, Gold and Fairbanks law firm, which has an office on Western Avenue in Guilderland.

Memorial Hospital is represented by Carter, Conboy, Case, Blackmore, Maloney and Laird of Albany.

Back to lawsuit list


Some doctors admit errors

A better way

More medical providers are acknowledging errors - and reducing lawsuits. The New York Times has a story here


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Amputee sues doctors

Loss of leg prompts lawsuit

By David Baker
Posted Sunday, May 11, 2008

A woman who had her left leg amputated above the knee after surgery for a knee replacement is suing four doctors and a hospital.

The lawsuit filed by Helen G. Turcotte of Cohoes names orthopedic surgeon Myung H. Kim, and doctors R. Clement Darling III, Sean P. Roddy and Paul Kreienberg. Also named as defendants are the Vascular Group of Southwoods Boulevard in Albany, Memorial Hospital in Albany and its owner, Northeast Health Inc.

According to legal papers, “On or about September 26, 2006, defendant Myung H. Kim undertook as a physician to admit plaintiff Helen G. Turcotte as a patient at Albany Memorial Hospital to perform a total left knee replacement and in doing so, caused trauma to plaintiff Helen G. Turcotte’s popliteal artery and vein.

“As a result of defendant Myung H. Kim’s failure to properly care for and treat the plaintiff Helen G. Turcotte in accordance with accepted medical procedure and by otherwise deviating and departing from accepted practice plaintiff Helen G. Turcotte was caused to suffer serious and permanent bodily injury and illness resulting in the amputation of her left leg,” the suit says.

The suit, which was filed in December 2007, seeks damages for Helen Turcotte and for her husband, Robert Turcotte Sr.

The Turcottes’ attorney is Donald Boyajian of Albany.

The defendants are represented by the Albany law firms of O’Connor, O’Connor, Breese and First; Maynard, O’Connor Smith; and Thuillez, Ford, Gold, Butler and Young.

The case has been assigned to Judge Eugene Devine in state Supreme Court, Albany County.

UPDATE: This case ended with a settlement in November 2009.

Back to lawsuit list

Attorney complaint filed

Lawyer committee asked
to review Coffey’s conduct

A written complaint has now been filed with the Committee on Professional Standards against Albany attorney Stephen Coffey over his “review” of my pending case against Samaritan Hospital.

As was reported here last year, Coffey contacted me in August 2006 offering to take a look at the case – which his firm had previously declined – with a view to representing me. But, as was later alleged in my lawsuit against him, he and his associate, Brendan Tully then acted at best with a total disregard for the interests of a potential client, and at worst, made an ongoing, callous and deliberate attempt to get the case dismissed, with Tully at one point advising me - just a few hours before the deadline - not to oppose an attempt by the hospital’s attorneys to have the lawsuit thrown out for failure to proceed.

My case against Coffey was later dismissed, not because the court did not believe the allegations, but because even the outrageous conduct described in the lawsuit is not a basis under the law for a claim for damages.

The results of the committee’s investigations are kept secret, which does nothing to improve the reputation of the legal profession. However, it is likely that Coffey and Tully will now have to respond to the detailed allegations in my complaint.

--David Baker

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Misplaced surgical sponge
brings malpractice lawsuit

By David Baker
Posted Sunday, May 4, 2008

A woman who had surgery to remove an ovarian cyst is suing a doctor and a hospital claiming that a second surgery was needed to remove a surgical sponge left in her body during the first operation.

The lawsuit, filed by Melanie Kiefer and her husband, Christopher, names Dr. John H. Malfetano and Albany Memorial Hospital. The hospital is owned by Northeast Health, Inc. of Troy.

According to the suit, Melanie Kiefer went into the hospital on Northern Boulevard in Albany in March 2004 to have a cyst removed from an ovary, but needed a second operation to remove a surgical sponge that had been left in her body during the first surgery.

As a result, the suit says, Kiefer “was force to undergo unnecessary general anesthesia… and developed, among other things, peritonitis, small bowl obstruction, scar tissue and adhesions.”

Kiefer’s lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages for herself and her husband.

The suit was filed in April 2006. A search of newspaper computer achieves produced no indication that it was reported.

The case is scheduled to go to trial before Albany County state Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough on June 9.

The Kiefers live in Ulster County. They are represented by William Cade of the Cade and Saunders law firm in Albany. Attorney E. Stewart Jones of Troy is also listed on the court’s Web page as representing the plaintiffs.

The defendants’ attorneys are Carter, Conboy, Case, Blackmore, Maloney & Laird of Albany.


Defending the indefensible

Leaving a foreign object inside a patient is the classic case of medical malpractice. It is widely considered to be totally indefensible.

But despite that, Albany Memorial Hospital has been fighting the Kiefer case for the past two years, and is apparently ready to go all the way to a trial.

Maybe it will be tried. But the chances are that after doing everything possible to run up the plaintiffs’ attorneys expenses and the Kiefers’ stress, the insurance carrier will settle just before details of the case would be presented in open court, where a jury could make a big award that might be reported in the media.

The fear of bad publicity is the reason that the medical community has worked to keep stories about virtually every malpractice claim out of compliant Capital Region newspapers for the past 10 years. Meanwhile, the papers have enjoyed a steady stream of advertising revenue from those same medical providers, revenue they would be unlikely to receive if they were regularly reporting on cases like the one filed by the Kiefers.

This betrayal of public trust by the media has been in plain sight for years but went unnoticed. Had Samaritan Hospital not put up its routine defense when Lisa died while in its care, I would never have become aware in 2004 that no local malpractice case had been reported since 1997, or that state legislators were ignoring their oversight responsibilities while taking tens of thousands of dollars from the healthcare providers they are sworn to regulate.

That’s why a new Web page will soon be launched to provide details of medical malpractice cases pending in the Capital Region. And there are dozens of them. So far, I have looked at claims against only one medical provider – the area’s largest – filed in only two counties. There are two more hospitals in Albany County, two in Schenectady County and another one in Troy, as well as many individual physicians who have lawsuits pending against them that are still to be examined.

I recognize this means that people will be publicly accused with no means of rebutting the accusation, but that’s a consequence of agreeing to the insurers’ harsh policies.

For years, medical providers have allowed their insurers to “deny, deny, deny.” But that sword has two edges. Those same providers can’t complain if the response now is “accuse, accuse, accuse.”

There are some ways to change that. One, reduce medical errors. Despite all the talk, preventable errors are still killing and injuring about the same number of people every year.

Two, immediately acknowledge errors when they occur. This would avoid many lawsuits, most of which are filed initially not to get huge amounts of money but to get answers after the door is slammed.

Of course, once a lawsuit is filed, money has to be part of it, if only because plaintiffs’ attorneys don’t sue for answers; they sue to get their 29 percent (plus costs) of any pay out.

Most medical malpractice cases are settled (despite what the medical community would like you to believe about all those “frivolous” lawsuits). But plaintiff’s don’t always win. In Lisa’s case I am on my own and it has reached a critical point, at which the insurance company’s enormous advantage in expertise and resources may well mean the claim does not succeed.

But I will not let Lisa’s unnecessary death go unnoticed, her short life to have brought no good. I will turn my attention from a situation in which the defendants have had the upper hand to one where I am in control, and which will benefit others long after Lisa’s life was ended too soon.

The defendants may ‘win’ this time. But for those who fought it, and for the entire medical, legal and media community in the Capital Region, it may well turn out to be the costliest case they didn’t lose.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Hazardous hospitals

From the New York Post:

Unsafe hands - April 27, 2008

Click here

Band Aid for hospital botch ups - May 2, 2008

Click here