Medical Negligence Caps Harm Women of Color

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WOMEN OF COLOR are disproportionately harmed by California’s outdated limits on compensation for patients injured by medical negligence. Systemic inequities in our health care system mean women of color receive lower quality health care and contend with worse health outcomes. Then the cap deprives them of justice when they seek answers and accountability.

 Maternal and infant health outcomes are worse for women of color.

The California Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review found that Black women in California are more likely to die from treatable pregnancy-related conditions. 

·      Black women in California are 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than all other women.

·      Black infants’ mortality rate is more than double that of all infants in California, and Native American infants die at nearly three times the rate of all infants. 

·      Pregnant and postpartum women of color also face mistreatment at hospitals at higher rates than their white counterparts. 

Disparate care in communities of color is not limited to maternal health care.

Decades of research shows that patients of color receive worse medical care and are more likely to experience adverse medical events and medical malpractice.

·      In 1990, the renowned Harvard Medical Practice Study found that Black patients were more likely to be hospitalized at institutions with more adverse events and higher rates of medical negligence.

·      In 2002, the Institute of Medicine published a landmark study finding that people of color were less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services, in areas such as cardiovascular care and cancer diagnostic tests.

·      Today, these disparities continue. In 2019, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that Black and Native American patients received worse care than white patients for about 40% of quality measures. These quality measures include serious, often fatal events such as post-operative infection and advanced-stage cancer diagnosis.

The cap perpetuates these poor health care outcomes by preventing accountability for medical negligence, removing an incentive to improve practices and make patient care safer. 

When women of color are harmed by preventable medical negligence, they can’t get justice.

When a woman or her child dies in childbirth, the most her family can recover in California is $250,000. That cap on “non-economic” or quality of life compensation prevents injured patients from finding an attorney, blocking fair access to the courts. That’s because attorneys can’t afford to take a case with a cap that hasn’t been increased since 1975. 

Wage disparities exacerbate the harm.

The cap on “non-economic” damages means an injured patient’s income – not the severity of the harm – can determine whether an injured patient or their family gets justice. Since working women are paid on average just 82% of what all men earn, compensation for women’s lost future income is less for the exact same injuries. The disparities are worse for most women of color. 

·      Black women are paid on average just 63 cents for every dollar paid the average white man.

·      Native American women are paid just 60 cents on the dollar.

·      Latina women make just 55 cents on the dollar. 

·      Asian American & Pacific Islander women make on average just 85 cents for every dollar paid the average white man.

·      The work of a stay-at-home parent or grandparent, a responsibility that still primarily falls to women, has no value under the cap. No wage loss is considered in the wake of their death.

Medical injuries unique to women are not valued.

Many reproductive injuries – including loss of a child, loss of fertility, miscarriage, incontinence, and scarring or disfigurement in intimate parts of the body – have no “economic” value and are capped under the law, regardless of the severity of the harm. This means that caps on non-economic or quality of life damages harm even women who can find an attorney, by depriving them of a much greater proportion of a jury award than men.

The cap is an example of systemic bias that perpetuates poor health care outcomes in California, depriving women of color of fair compensation and preventing equal access to justice.

Greer Levin
Greer Levin
Greer Levin joined Consumer Watchdog in June 2019 as a patient safety advocate, where she organizes citizen advocates and provides research assistance to the Executive Director. Prior to her current position, Greer interned at the Justice Action Network in Washington, DC; The Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York; and Hope’s Door in White Plains, New York. While in college, Greer worked as an editor and operations manager at the Claremont Journal of Law and Public Policy. She received her BA in Legal Studies with a minor in Music from Scripps College.

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