Doctors’ Double Standard Exposed: Malpractice Cap Unfairly Limits Victims’ Recovery
Santa Monica, CA — A California surgeon recently won a $4 million jury verdict after a light fell on him during surgery, yet a child that died on the operating table at the hands of a negligent surgeon would only be entitled to $250,000 because of California’s malpractice damage cap, said the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) today. California’s doctors lobby and the American Medical Association are vocal advocates of the state’s $250,000 cap on non-economic damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.
According to the Los Angeles Daily Journal, Dr. John Shamoun was operating on a 3-year-old child when a nurse adjusted a 30-pound light above his head. The lamp came loose, hit Shamoun in the head and he fell to the ground, later experiencing symptoms including loss of fine motor skills. A jury awarded him $2 million in economic damages for lost and future wages and $2 million in non-economic damages for quality-of-life compensation.
“The medical lobby’s double standard — malpractice caps for patients but unlimited awards for doctors — is outrageous,” said Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate with the non-profit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). “Dr. Shamoun deserves compensation for his injuries, but patients injured on the operating table should have the same legal rights as doctors injured while operating.”
California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) imposes a $250,000 non-economic damage cap on victims of medical malpractice. Doctors and insurers are lobbying Congress and state legislators to impose a California-style cap nationally. FTCR proves that caps don’t lower premiums in a recent report, showing that rates rose 450% in California after the passage of MICRA, and did not drop and then stabilize until voters passed the insurance reform initiative, Proposition 103.
In May, 700,000 doctors scored a victory against health insurer Aetna, who the physicians accused of coercing them into unfavorable contracts and payment plans, when a $170 million class action suit was settled. Another group of physicians settled for an undisclosed amount with a California medical malpractice insurer after the jury found NORCAL guilty of tricking the physicians into buying NORCAL insurance.
“Doctors either accept limiting jury awards in every case, or none. They can’t have it both ways,” said Balber. “When doctors give up the right to sue they can start talking about limiting patients’ rights in court.”