At least three times in recent years, families whose disabled loved ones allegedly suffered devastating mistreatment while in state institutions were later billed at least $1 million by the state of New York for the cost of the patient's care.

Critics of the practice say the state is coldheartedly trying to get its hands on the money the families stand to win from suing.

The state says it's required under federal law to try to recoup certain Medicaid costs after the death of a patient.

But national experts say New York's actions are highly unusual — and distasteful. They say states have certain latitude in deciding whether to press for reimbursement.