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Gag order issued in DeGraff Hospital death lawsuit

Lawyers and parties are barred from making any further comment to the media about a lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who was incorrectly declared dead in the emergency room of DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda.

Tammy Cleveland, the widow of Michael E. Cleveland of Amherst, sued Kaleida Health, which owns the hospital, and Dr. Gregory C. Perry, the doctor in the ER on Oct. 10, 2014.

The widow and her attorney, Charles F. Burkwit, have told The Buffalo News and other local and national media outlets of how Perry declared Michael Cleveland dead after a heart attack. Perry stuck to that position for about 2 1/2 hours, even though the family and Niagara County Coroner Joseph V. Mantione insisted the patient was still breathing and moving.

Eventually, he was transferred to Buffalo General Medical Center, where he died the next morning. The suit claims he could have survived if he had been treated more promptly.

State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso, in a ruling filed Friday in the Niagara County Clerk's Office, imposed the gag order sought by lawyers for Kaleida and Perry. They contend the plaintiffs' media interviews were tainting the potential jury pool, while they were unable to respond because of federal health privacy laws.

"This results in the public being constantly exposed to only one perspective of the facts of this case without any rebuttal or refutation of facts believed to be inaccurate," Caruso wrote.

The trial, which was to have started last month, has been postponed indefinitely.

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