California Malpractice Victims head to Capitol to Protest Financial Caps

May 15, 2013

7601099008_2c54bea54f.jpgMedical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins applaud the efforts of the California families who protested at the State Capitol last Thursday, May 9, 2013. These families have all been significantly impacted by medical negligence, and are advocating for measures that would lift the state's unjust financial caps for noneconomic damages.

The financial limits were signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown in 1975, setting the noneconomic damages cap at a mere $250,000. Noneconomic damages cover such aspects as victims' pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, and loss of consortium (relationship with partner), all things healthy Americans take for granted until they are taken away from them by a single act of medical negligence. For victims, particularly young victims of malpractice, $250,000 does not begin to cover a lifetime of pain and suffering.

One of the families taking their cause to the Capitol were the Jeffers. Three years ago, when their daughter was just a toddler, they took her into a clinic because of a small, treatable infection. Doctors at the Sacramento clinic, however, did not make enough time to see her until it was too late. The unacceptable delay in diagnosis and treatment forced physicians to amputate her lower legs and hands.

Today, and for the remainder of her childhood at least, she requires 24-hour care. The Jeffers, who received only $250,000 due to California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), assert that they simply cannot afford the care their daughter now requires, and will likely require for the rest of her life.

The Jeffers, along with thousands of other advocates, headed to the State Capitol in support of a ballot that would change the decades-old law. They argue that the cap is unjust, not at all enough to make up for a lost life or a young life changed forever, or the devastation caused to families by negligent doctors and hospitals.

Despite inflation and the raising of current healthcare and living costs, the $250,000 cap established 38 years ago has never been raised. When Governor Brown signed it into law, legislators made an average of $22,000 per year. Now, the average salary for lawmakers has risen more than 400%, while the limit determining the value of victims' lives has remained the same.

Ballot supporters are hoping to ensure that no one else will have to suffer as they did under MICRA. The initiative would leave the amount of noneconomic damages up to a jury, as most states do, rather than to blanket legislation. The repeal measure will be included on the November 2014 ballot, and is currently being drafted by Consumer Watchdog and the Troy and Alana Pack Foundation, which is a non-profit established by the Pack family. The family lost their children in an auto accident caused by a drug abuser who obtained his prescriptions through a physician's prescription.

Because it is still in its drafting stage, there are several options for the reform, including repealing MICRA so damages are made on a case-by-case basis. Also being considered is overhauling the Medical Board of California completely to establish a public member majority, release more information online, give investigative powers to the Office of the Attorney General, and amend the board's ability to revoke licenses.

They are also considering mandating drug and alcohol testing for doctors, funding an online data system that would track prescriptions for controlled substances, requiring field investigations for physicians who have outlying prescribing habits, and cutting prescription privileges for doctors involved in overdose deaths.

Like the demonstration enacted by the Jeffers and their peers, in a public hearing in Sacramento in March 2013, parents of children who were overprescribed to opiates mobbed the capitol in support of the MICRA appeal.

Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins encourage the California public to voice their support of this new measure. It is of vital importance to protecting the rights of patients in California who have been catastrophically injured by negligent medical providers. If you or a loved one was the victim of medical malpractice, you have important legal rights, and should contact a skilled attorney as soon as possible.