Around their Fresno neighborhood, Daphne McClendon-Ricks was known to all the kids simply as “Mom.” She was the shoulder to lean on, the unbreakable woman who salved wounds and gave good advice, and the friendly neighbor who helped mow a lawn or gave away vegetables from her bountiful backyard garden. She was a vigorous 59-year-old except for one health problem: a nagging case of diverticulitis, an ailment of the colon.
In February 2006, the pain grew so intense she had to rush to the hospital. Doctors assured her children that it could be treated with medicine. They mentioned nothing about problems.
But after nine days of plummeting vital signs, she died.
Her family was shocked. “People do not die from diverticulitis – it just doesn’t happen,” her daughter Stephanie says. Only later did they learn the truth. An artery had been lacerated during surgery. She bled internally and a bacterial infection swept through her system.
Even with such signs of medical negligence, lawyers wouldn’t touch the case. They blamed the state’s 1975 cap on non-economic damages, which discriminates against women and particularly women of color. “It doesn’t matter what the doctor does, it doesn’t matter how awful it is,” her daughter says, “The most you can get is $250,000…it’s almost like saying if you’re poor, your life means nothing.”