Nation Should Not Adopt California’s Failed Malpractice System
Santa Monica, CA — A California law which caps non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits will override the findings of any jury and set an arbitrary value on the life of Delaney Gonzalez, a 16-month-old California girl who underwent minor surgery and never recovered due to medical errors, consumer advocates with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) stated today.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Delaney Gonzalez entered UCLA Medical Center for routine surgery to fix a cleft palate. She died five days later after a series of medical errors including a breathing tube which was inserted into her stomach rather than her lungs, failure by the radiology department to review chest x-rays which would have revealed the problem, and the removal by staff of a machine which would have detected dangerous carbon dioxide levels, according to a report by the California Department of Health Services.
California’s 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) caps “non-economic” damages in malpractice cases to $250,000. It will limit pain and suffering compensation for Delaney’s parents to $250,000, regardless of a jury’s decision in their daughter’s case. Under the law, the jury will not even be told that their verdict will be arbitrarily reduced. Legislation to impose a California-style cap is currently being considered in several states, and in Congress.
“No one can put a price on the life of a child. Yet, 25 years before she was born, California lawmakers passed a law that determined Delaney Gonzalez’s life was only worth $250,000. That malpractice cap will override the decision of any jury that finds differently,” said FTCR’s Carmen Balber. “Lawmakers across the nation must reject proposals which would set a similarly arbitrary value on the life of every child who is the victim of medical mistakes.”
Typically, when a child’s death is caused by medical mistakes, “economic” damages are low because future lost wages are difficult to prove, and no medical expenses remain. Delaney Gonzalez’s parents are likely to only receive “non-economic” damages, meant to compensate victims of medical mistakes for intangible pain and suffering. Medical experts, court costs and legal fees, which can easily run more than $100,000 in a complicated malpractice case, are not considered “economic” damages either, so they must be subtracted from the capped “non-economic” damages portion of a verdict.