A California woman recently won a $22 million medical malpractice lawsuit against the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Group after a medical procedure left her a quadriplegic. In October 2006, the woman was seeking medical treatment for migraines when doctors discovered an abnormal vein in her brain. A cerebral angiogram, a procedure that involved injecting dye into the vein, was ordered to check the blood flow to the brain. During the procedure, the woman suffered a stroke and went into a coma. Now she is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from slowed speech. She requires round-the-clock care; this single mother of two can no longer work or provide for her children as she once did; she has no feeling and cannot move her body below the neck. Her medical care costs are estimated between $300,000 and $350,000 per year.
The lawsuit alleged that not only was this unfortunate woman not informed of the risks, but that the procedure was unnecessary. Expert witnesses testified that the angiogram was not medically necessary; it provided no benefits for the doctors to better assess the woman’s headaches. The jury awarded $2 million for past economic losses in earnings and past medical expenses, $14 million for future economic losses and care, and $6 million for pain and suffering. This represents the jury’s best attempt at fairly compensating a woman for her past, present and future care, and for being trapped in what is, essentially, a useless body. And now….the rest of the story….
Under California Law, the pain and suffering award will be capped at $250,000. This means that the woman will only receive 4% percent of the jury award for her pain and suffering. To add insult to injury, the California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) of 1975, limits how the health care provider has to pay for the damages they cause. In a medical malpractice case, MICRA allows health care providers to make payments over a set period which means they can pay back the future damages they cause over the rest of the life of the victim, rather than the full award when the case settles. If that isn’t enough, in the event the victim dies earlier than expected, the balance of the future money awarded to the victim goes back to the doctor or hospital. It does not go to the victim's family.
This is what the citizens of a state get when their elected officials sign on for "tort reform”: Because corporate influence (money) has found its way into politics and politicians pockets, immunities and protections are provided for the negligent perpetrators along with inadequate compensation for seriously injured, disabled, and innocent victims. Negligence can cause critical injuries and permanent disabilities that have life-long, costly consequences, yet critics of the medical malpractice justice system are quick to suggest that many verdicts are too large and unjust. Do they ever stop to consider the value of human pain and suffering, the loss of normal enjoyment of life? Do they ever put themselves in the shoes of the victims? Damage caps deny victims of fair compensation. Caps minimize the value of human life and survivor suffering; this makes it easy and affordable for the medical community to cut costs and take risks with patient's lives; $250,000 is insignificant in the context of ruining someone’s life. Healthcare professionals aren’t being held accountable for wrongdoing; insurance companies answer to no one.
Tort reform is not about “lawsuit abuse” or “jackpot justice”; it is not about “frivolous lawsuits”. It is about restricting innocent, seriously damaged, victims from access to justice and limiting their recoveries. The threat of large damages awards is a strong deterrent against wrongdoers; it keeps us safer. If there are limited or no consequences for bad behavior, bad behavior will continue.
Damage caps need to be abolished, all over this country, at both state and federal levels. You, the people, have the power to make a change for justice. Don’t vote for legislators who would allow doctors to hide behind corporate veils, completely immune from responsibility for their actions. Holding them responsible for full and fair compensation forces them to consider safety in the context of its effect on profits. The next time you hear a politician push for “tort reform” and limits on jury awards, think about this unfortunate woman. Don’t wait until you or a loved one loses the ability to enjoy life and able to care for one’s self. It is time that the US Chamber of Commerce, corporations, insurance companies, and other tort reform advocates stop lying to the American people. Together, we must combat and put an end to the deceptive corporate takeover of our precious civil justice system.
Mark Bello has thirty-five years experience as a trial lawyer and thirteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice and Public Citizen, Business Associate of the Florida, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, and Tennessee Associations for Justice, and Consumers Attorneys of California, member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He 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.