Calif. Supreme Court To Hear Case Over Medical Malpractice Awards

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Last week, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the state's cap on pain-and-suffering awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, Modern Healthcare reports.

Background on Cap

Under California's 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act — or MICRA — pain-and-suffering damages are limited to a maximum of $250,000 (Schencker, Modern Healthcare, 12/1).

A November ballot measure — Proposition 46 — aimed to increase the limit on pain-and-suffering awards, but 67.1% of California voters rejected the measure (California Healthline, 11/6).

Details of Lawsuit

In Hughes v. Pham, Trent and Lisa Hughes allege that Trent Hughes became a paraplegic because a neurosurgeon, Christopher Pham, delayed treatment after an off-road vehicle accident. A jury determined the Hughes' noneconomic damages to be $2.75 million, but the amount was reduced to $250,000 under MICRA.

In September, a California appeals court upheld the trial court's decision, ruling against the plaintiffs in all matters but the structure of the judgment.

The Hughes argue that the cap violates equal protection guaranteed under the Constitution. They allege that it "arbitrarily and irrationally singles out the most severely injured victims of medical malpractice for unfavorable treatment."

However, Pham argues that there was a lack of evidence to justify awarding the plaintiffs damages for future medical care costs.

The California Supreme Court will hold the case until it hears a separate case, Rashidi v. Moser, that addresses similar issues, according to Modern Healthcare.


Consumer Watchdog, which supported Prop. 46, applauded the state Supreme Court's decision to hear the case.

Pam Pressley, litigation director for Consumer Watchdog who wrote an amicus brief urging the court to take the case, said, "Several states in recent years have determined that their own damages caps were unconstitutional and unjust — it's time for California to join them."

Valerie Nannery, a lawyer for the plaintiffs at the Center for Constitutional, said, "Now that Prop. 46 has been defeated there may be more reason for the court to take the constitutional issues up in this case."

Kenny Pedroza, a lawyer for the defendant, said he does not think the court will consider the constitutionality of the cap. Instead, he said the court likely will decide how noneconomic damages should be paid (Modern Healthcare, 12/1).

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