At 48, Annette Ramirez was a mother of two young children and worked at the University of Southern California as the Director of Alumni Reunions. She lived a busy life, organizing events at work and raising her children at home. She enjoyed exercise and played classical piano. In order to address difficult and disruptive menstrual cycles, she underwent a routine hysterectomy. She expected to leave the hospital the next day.
During surgery, the surgeon nicked her colon. Diligent post-operative care would have brought this to light but, for over thirty-six hours, the nurses failed to report her abnormal vital signs and doctors neglected to adequately check her condition. An infection spread throughout her body, causing her to go into septic shock. After failing to detect the infection in time, doctors had to amputate her arms and legs, as well as skin from multiple areas of her body, to save her life. She was in a medically induced coma for four months.
For the next two years, Annette went in and out of hospitals. She could not see her children or recover at home, due to the severity of her condition and continued procedures. She experienced several near-death complications. During her extended time at the hospital, she especially missed her family and her own sense of self.
When Annette and her husband, Rolando, began looking for an attorney to seek compensation for the negligence that cost her so dearly, they were shocked to learn about MICRA. The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act was enacted in 1975 and caps non-economic damages in medical negligence cases at $250,000. There are no exceptions for cases of catastrophic injuries like Annette’s loss of her limbs or her lifelong inability to hold her children, be intimate with her husband, or care for herself independently. Because of the cap, Annette cannot afford things that both she and her family need to adapt to Annette’s abilities and continued medical costs.
For example, a customized van would allow Annette to drive herself to appointments and to other everyday tasks without her husband’s help. Annette also has previously unforeseen medical costs for prosthetics adjustments and ongoing surgeries. These expenses are not all covered.
Annette and her family now live on a fixed income. She can no longer do the job she previously held, and her husband left his job to help care for her. She explains that their new life is a “full time job that never ends, day and night” because of the appointments and care she still needs. MICRA overlooks this and denies them sufficient compensation for the work they do to keep their family going and for sacrifices they make every day.
Today, Annette is an advocate for other victims of medical malpractice who are harmed a second time by MICRA’s limits on patients’ rights. She says the cap is unfair because it compensates people based on their income, instead of on their injuries. And she points out that it is especially unfair for women, because women still earn less than men in the workplace, and are more likely to have no income as the parent who stays home with the children. She hopes that by telling her story, the public will learn about the cap that has not increased in over 40 years and “understand the impact that MICRA can make on a family.” While Annette would not personally benefit if the MICRA cap were lifted, she says she is determined to “make sure that we fight for the others who have been injured in this way.”
Consumer Advocate Hall of Fame honoree Annette Ramirez, presented at the 2019 Rage For Justice Awards held by Consumer Watchdog at the Beverly Wilshire on May 18th, 2019. Watch the tribute video here: