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A gay man does not have the right under New York law to sue a hospital where his partner died, an appeals court ruled on Thursday. The 3-2 decision by the appellate division second department in Brooklyn reversed an order by a Nassau County supreme court judge that would have allowed John Langan, 41, to sue St. Vincent's Hospital for the wrongful death of his partner, Neal Spicehandler, according to Newsday. Spicehandler died at the hospital after he was hit by a car in Manhattan in 2002.
The appeals court ruled that although Spicehandler and Langan were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000, their relationship did not allow Langan to sue the hospital under New York law. The court acknowledged that Langan and Spicehandler had a committed relationship much like spouses in a traditional marriage. New York's wrongful-death statute allows spouses and other relatives to sue for negligent death. However, the court said a same-sex partner can't be viewed as a spouse. "The thought that the surviving spouse would be of the same sex as the decedent was simply inconceivable," the appellate court said of the law's original intent.
In a forceful dissent, Judge Steven Fisher, once chief administrative judge for Queens, said the court majority "missed the point." Fisher said he couldn't conceive of how New York's interest in promoting traditional marriage was helped by denying access to the courts for members of recognized civil unions such as the one Spicehandler and Langan had.
Spicehandler, 41, died five days after Ronald Popadich drove into a crowd of 18 people near Madison Square Garden. Spicehandler, a lawyer, had a broken leg and seemed on the way to recovery when he died. Langan and Spicehandler's mother sued St. Vincent's for wrongful death and medical malpractice. The hospital denied wrongdoing.
Popadich pleaded guilty to murder in Spicehandler's death and was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison last month. He was also given a 30-year sentence in New Jersey for the 2002 murder of Lisa Gotkin, 40, a neighbor in Garfield, N.J. Adam Aronson, the staff attorney for Lambda Legal who is representing Langan, said there might be an appeal. "The majority decision is very clearly wrong and demonstrably wrong in several different ways," he said.