A Baltimore family was recently awarded $10 million in a medical malpractice case against the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) after a jury found that the health care providers’ negligence ultimately resulted in death.
The patient was admitted to UMMS on March 11, 2013 for kidney problems. During treatment, he developed elevated potassium levels for which doctors administered Kayexalate. According to the lawsuit, the drug severely damaged the patient’s colon, causing in his death. The suit stated that although there was blood in the patient’s stool, the medical staff was negligent by waiting hours before performing tests to determine there was a problem with his colon. The patient underwent surgery to remove his colon, but ultimately died the next day. The claim also alleged that the doctor was who prescribed the drug was unaware of the risks of the medication. The family also argues that dialysis would have been the safer option to bring down his potassium levels.
The $10 million verdict that the jury determined was fair and just compensation will be reduced to $906,250 due to Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.
In any personal injury or wrongful death case, reducing damages is a bad idea. By placing limits on amounts that wrongdoers are required to pay, state legislatures remove incentives for corporations to put safety over profits. If a negligent health care provider causes $10 million worth of damage but is only legally required to pay $906,250, what prevents such negligence from repeating itself?
To add insult to injury, in Maryland medical malpractices victims are treated differently than plaintiffs in non-medical malpractice cases. For example, while this case was capped at $906,250, if the victim died as a result of non-medical negligence, such as due to a defective product or in an auto accident, the non-economic damages would have been $1,925,000. Although all damage caps are unjust, there is no rational reason why a medical malpractice claim is “valued” lower than non-medical malpractice claim. A life is a life; shouldn’t they be treated equally?
Irrelevant the kind of case, damage caps allow negligent doctors to keep practicing medicine and defective products to stay on the market. They substantially take power away from the jury, and in doing so, take the power away from citizens. Our civil justice system is designed, in part, to provide redress for injuries caused by wrongdoers; when it fails to do so, the system is broken.
When tort reform bails out irresponsible corporations, doctors and hospitals, it closes the courthouse doors to victims, undermines our constitutional protections, and leaves taxpayers holding the bill. Taxpayers should not be forced to give up fundamental rights; they should not be forced to bail out negligent corporations, doctors and hospitals. The focus should be on improving safety not on undercompensating the victims of breaches of safety. Want to reduce lawsuits and compensation? Fix the safety problems and get rid of the serial perpetrators rather than restricting the recoveries and court access to victims.
Tort reform does not prevent injuries or save lives. All it does is weakens our civil justice system and harms innocent victims. Absent proper accountability, tort reform often shifts the burden for injuries caused by malpractice to the taxpayers who wind up covering the costs of inadequate compensation.
Lawsuit Financial will continue to report such travesties of justice caused by unreasonable damage limitations resulting from legislative tort reform. This pro-justice legal funding company will continue to ask why a legislative solution is better than the sound judgment of a jury of the plaintiff’s peers as guaranteed by the constitution.
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.