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NEW BILL WOULD PROTECT PSYCH PATIENTS WHO SUE
New York Post, December 2, 1998

The state's decades-old practice of hitting mental patients with whopping medical bills when they sue for negligence or abuse is being targeted by lawmakers.

State Assemblyman James Brennan (D-Brooklyn) is proposing a law to bar the state attorney general from billing indigent mental patients for care after they sue for damages in cases that involve everything from rape to murder.

Brennan will announce the bill at a press conference tomorrow, highlighting the case of Donald Kaplan, a Kingsboro Psychiatric Center patient who was stabbed to death in 1994 by another patient.

The killer, who had a history of violence, easily slipped in and out of the compound and was also able to sneak a knife through lax security.

But when Kaplan's family sued, the attorney general hit his estate with a $382,000 bill for past services, even seeking payment for the "care" he received the day he was killed.

"A prisoner who sues does not have to pay for the time spent in jail," said Madeline Bryer, Kaplan's lawyer. "Why are we treating mental patients differently?"

The practice discourages patients and their families from suing and discourages institutions from correcting abuses, Brennan said.

"The Kaplan case is the tip of the iceberg," he said, noting that damages outweighed hospital bills in only two cases over the past 20 years. "The state's policy has the effect of covering up gross patient abuse."

One case involved a female mental patient at the South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island who was sedated, forgotten, and then raped by another patient in 1992. The victim's $250,000 award was reduced by $100,000 to pay her medical bill.

The other case involved a 15-year-old mental patient left blind when his retinas became detached because hospital staff failed to take measures to keep him from repeatedly banging his head against a wall.

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