Court: Same-Sex Partners Can't Sue Hospitals for Malpractice

A divided state appeals court ruled Thursday that a man cannot sue a Manhattan hospital for malpractice (search) in the death of his longtime partner, saying it could not provide tacit approval of same-sex marriages.

The court overturned a judge's 2003 decision that John Langan, of Vermont, could sue St. Vincent's Hospital for alleged malpractice in the death of Neil C. Spicehandler.

The appeals court, in a 3-2 vote, decided that Langan had no standing to sue the hospital despite the couple's 2000 civil union (search) in Vermont. Attorneys for Langan claimed the civil union gave him standing as a spouse to sue the hospital under New York law.

Any ruling favoring Langan would be "taken as judicial imprimatur of same-sex marriages and would constitute a usurpation of powers expressly reserved by our Constitution to the Legislature," the court ruled.

Adam Aronson, the attorney for Langan, criticized the decision and said he would discuss a possible appeal with his client.

"If this decision is allowed to stand, same-sex couples will be denied the very significant and important protections that all married heterosexual spouses can get," Aronson said. "And they will be denied those protections for no reason other than the fact they are gay."

Calls for comment on the decision were not returned by a hospital spokeswoman or the Manhattan facility's attorney.

Gay rights advocates had said a ruling for Langan might have cleared the way for New York to recognize same-sex marriages from Massachusetts or countries like Canada and Belgium (search).

Spicehandler, 41, died at St. Vincent's after he was struck by a car in Manhattan. In his lawsuit, Langan charged that errors in treatment led to Spicehandler's death from an embolism — a blockage caused by a blood clot.