Leonard Melfi was a well-known playwright. He gained notoriety when he wrote Oh! Calcutta! and Birdbath. One would think that a playwright who was known for his great Broadway successes would have a mansion and live in the lap of luxury. That was not the case for Leonard Melfi. He died in a room that he had lived in for quite some time at the Narragansett Hotel. The Narragansett Hotel is a welfare hotel that is located in Manhattan. His neighbor and his landlord both had information on his next of kin.
When the ambulance arrived, the Emergency Medical Services Staff obtained this information as well as his date of birth and social security number. His friend and neighbor who knew his brother, was listed on the document as his next of kin. When he got to the emergency room of Mount Sinai Hospital, a staff member prepared a patient information form that had all of the information from the EMS report including the information on the neighbor as well as her phone number. Although, he was still alive at the time that he reached the hospital, and an assessment was performed, it does not show that he received any treatment. His final assessment performed by a doctor at the hospital was that he was suffering from congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation.
The emergency medical records in this case are very disturbing. They do not reflect that Mr. Melfi received any care in the hospital. The only evidence that the hospital staff did anything for him is a billing statement that lists treatments. There is no evidence that when he stopped breathing and became unresponsive that any life- saving actions were initiated. Mr. Melfi passed that evening. His death certificate listed by the hospital stated his name and age, but did not list his address, social security, or his next of kin information. This is true in spite of the fact that this information was on the report from the ambulance, and on the patient information report. Because of this act of neglect, Mr. Melfi ‘s body was relegated to the Mount Sinai Hospital morgue. Thirty days later the death certificate was filed and a burial permit was issued. His body was taken to the city morgue at Bellevue Hospital on November 28, 2001. There is no notation in the records that show if any effort was made to locate his next of kin.
His body was sent to Nassau Community College’s Mortuary Science Department where students used his body for practice before he was interred in Potter’s Field in a mass grave with 150 other unnamed bodies on December 20, 2001. In February, his niece dropped by to visit him and was informed by the manager of the Narragansett Hotel that he had passed. She is a New York State Trooper. She notified her father who was the decedent’s brother. The family contacted the friend and neighbor who was listed as his next of kin on all of the paperwork. She advised that she had not been notified that he had passed.
At that point, the family began an investigation to find out what had happened to their loved one’s body so that they could put him to rest. The brother, finally, contacted the media and made a public plea for information that would help him locate his brother’s body. It was only then that he discovered that his brother had been interred in Potter’s Field.
On April 10, 2002, the brother of Mr. Melfi was able to claim his brother’s body after having it exhumed. He was forced to identify a naked body that was scarred with cuts and holes made by the students who had practiced on it. The family was distraught and demanded an accounting for what had happened to their family member. He was laid to rest in the family plot in Binghamton, New York on April 18, 2002.
In the first week of May 2002, the brother filed a notice of claim on the hospital for loss of sepulcher. Sepulcher is the ability to care for a loved one’s body in accordance with the religious beliefs of the family. Each family has the inalienable right to have the body of a loved on returned to them to be laid to rest according to the ritual that is important to the family. In addition to filing for loss of sepulcher, the family also filed suit for medical malpractice and wrongful death. They contend that according to the medical records of the hospital, when Mr. Melfi arrived at the hospital suffering from congestive heart failure, there is no documentation that anyone in the hospital took any steps to assist and treat him. When he went into cardiac arrest, there is no evidence that anyone at the hospital attempted to revive him.
The family contends that when Mr. Melfi died as a result of medical malpractice in the emergency room, the hospital staff attempted to fraudulently conceal that death by not notifying the next of kin located on all of the records that he had died. He was then sent to Bellevue with no information on his next of kin and no social security number to locate his next of kin. The family sued Bellevue hospital as well for not taking any steps to locate the next of kin prior to sending Mr. Melfi’s body to be illegally embalmed without the authorization of the family.
The hospitals requested the court to grant to them, summary judgment dismissing the case as being time-barred. There is a 90-day requirement for filing medical malpractice claims. The fact that Mr. Melfi’s family was not notified of his death and his body was absconded to Potter’s Field in a mass grave where he had to be located months later, prevented them from filing a medical malpractice within the 90-days. The family contends that it was just that outcome that the hospital was hoping to attain when they absconded with Mr. Melfi’s body.
The court determined that the 90-day statute of limitations begins to run from the time that the wrongdoing is apparent to the family. That means that the medical malpractice suit is not time-barred as the hospital claims. The court also determined that punitive damages in this case would be expected. The original trial court was not so fast to place a sinister motive on the loss of sepulcher. They determined that it was simply an oversight in a busy emergency room and hospital. One of the doctors who treated Mr. Melfi testified that they had taken steps to help Mr. Melfi, they had just done a bad job of documenting those steps. He also testified that he had personally attempted to reach the next of kin who was listed. He stated that he called several times and did not get an answer at that number.
The family modified their claims to include gross negligence and punitive damages associated with that gross negligence. The court accepted the motion to modify the complaint. The court denied the motions for summary judgment dismissing the case and sent it forward to trial.
At Stephen Bilkis & Associates with its criminal Lawyers, have convenient offices throughout New York and Metropolitan area. Our medical malpractice lawyers can provide you with advice to guide you through difficult situations. Without a wrongful death Lawyer, you could lose precious compensation to help your family.