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Albany, N.Y.�A secretary’s failure to enter a court deadline in the calendar system of a two-lawyer firm where everyone was seriously distracted at about the same time has cost several malpractice claimants the chance to obtain damages from a bankrupt hospital. The law firm failed to convince the chief Northern District of New York bankruptcy judge, Stephen D. Gerling, that it had met the standard for excusable neglect in missing the deadline. Judge Gerling ruled in In re Crouse Health, No. 01-60785-60790, that since the secretary was under the control of the law firm, her oversight is ultimately the firm’s responsibility and is not excusable. The surrounding circumstances, the judge noted, were unusual. One partner, Joseph S. Cote of Syracuse, N.Y., was in China adopting a baby. The other was serving in the military in Iraq. And the secretary went into premature labor as the deadline approached. The matter involves the Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization of Crouse Hospital, a major health care provider in central New York. The missed deadline, set in September 2003, was Dec. 31, 2003. Seventy-eight days after it was missed, new attorneys moved on behalf of the clients for an extension. Now it has been denied by Gerling.

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