I first heard of Delaney Gonzales in a video, entitled A World Without Lawyers, produced by Consumer Attorneys of California. Her story was compelling, tragic, and worth sharing…

On February 4, 2002, Delaney Lucille Gonzales, 16 months old, went to UCLA Medical Center for a routine surgery to repair a cleft palate. It was supposed to be the first of several surgeries to repair malformations on Delaney’s head and face caused by Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare birth defect.

The initial operation on Delaney was successful, according to medical records, BUT a breathing tube was misplaced and pumped air into Delaney’s stomach rather than her lungs. Because Delaney’s body was deprived of oxygen, her heart stopped. She suffered irreversible brain damage. Delaney Gonzalez passed away less than an hour later.

While no one can put a price on the life of a child, twenty-five years before Delaney was born, in 1975, California lawmakers passed a law known as MICRA that determined Delaney Gonzalez’s life was only worth $250,000. That cap on “non-economic damages” for pain and suffering would override the decision of any jury that may think Delaney’s life is worth more.

When a child dies, the other available damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, known as “economic damages,” are very low because future lost wages are difficult to prove and no medical expenses remain. Medical experts, court costs and legal fees, which can easily run more than $100,000 in a complicated medical malpractice case, are not considered “economic damages” either, so they must be subtracted from the settlement or verdict. Thus, Delaney’s family would only receive $250,000 for “non-economic damages,” minus expenses and legal fees, unless they are able to prove Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED) or Fraud which would allow for a greater recovery beyond the MICRA cap on “non-economic damages.”

Voters and lawmakers should reject proposals which set an arbitrary value on the life of every child who is the victim of medical mistakes.

For more information, or if you or a loved one, have been injured as the result of medical malpractice in California, please contact the experienced lawyers at Mulligan, Banham & Findley. Our telephone number is 619-238-8700.

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On January 25, 2011, President Barack Obama raised the issue of medical malpractice reform in his State of the Union address by saying that he is “willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year — medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.”

What is a frivolous lawsuit? In legal terms, a “frivolous lawsuit” is one having no legal basis or merit, often filed to harass or extort money from the defendant. Most people use the word “frivolous” to describe someone or something that is unconcerned about or lacking any serious purpose. Proponents of tort reform often argue that “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits increase insurance premiums for hospital and physicians, increase health care costs, and do not allow doctors to practice medicine.

This begs the questions – are there really that many “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits in the United States? Tort reform supporters often cite a 2006 Harvard School of Public Health Study as evidence that there are too many frivolous med mal lawsuits. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Tex), who is the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, and Darren McKinney of the American Tort Reform Association, both publicly cited the Harvard study for the proposition that 40 percent of medical malpractice suits filed in the U.S. are “without merit” or “groundless.”

It is clear that those who rely on the 2006 Harvard Study to promote the idea that “frivolous” lawsuits have a severe impact on health care didn’t actually read it. Or, if they did, they chose to ignore that authors’ conclusion that efforts to “curb frivolous litigation, if successful, will have a relatively limited effect on the caseload and costs of litigation (emphasis added).” As William Sage, now the vice provost for health affairs at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, said when the Harvard study was published, “the major problem out there is medical errors that are not compensated, rather than frivolous claims that are compensated.” The most seriously injured patients are the ones whose monetary compensation is severely limited and do not receive the justice they so desperately deserve.

For more information, or if you or a loved one, have been injured as the result of medical malpractice in California, please contact the experienced lawyers at Mulligan, Banham & Findley. Our telephone number is 619-238-8700.

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On February 18, 2011, according to the Los Angeles Times, the University of Southern California Hospital halted its kidney transplants after a kidney was accidentally transplanted into the wrong patient. Luckily, the patient who received the wrong kidney escaped substantial harm and possibly death because the kidney just so happened to be an acceptable match.

According to the article, USC Hospital performs about two transplants a week, which means there are a little over a 100 kidney transplants in a given year. Dr. Goran Klintmalm, a veteran surgeon at Baylor Regional Transplant Institute in Dallas, was quoted as saying that such a mistake is almost inconceivable. “The safeguards are very substantial,” he said. “I can’t even imagine how this mistake could have happened.”

According to a 2000 study by the American Heart Association, medical errors cost tens of thousands of lives in hospitals across the United States each year – more than deaths from highway accidents, breast cancer, and AIDS combined. Studies have put the numbers of deaths at over 98,000 annually in hospitals.

For more information, or if you or a loved one, have been injured as the result of medical malpractice in California, please contact the experienced lawyers at Mulligan, Banham & Findley. Our telephone number is 619-238-8700.

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In the 1970’s, the State of Virginia capped awards in medical malpractice lawsuits at $750,000. In 2008, the cap was increased to $2 million. On February 24, 2011, according to an article in The Washington Post, the General Assembly in Virginia agreed to raise awards in medical malpractice lawsuits $50,000 each year starting in 2012. The bill calls for an increase from a cap of $2 million starting in 2012 and then $50,000 each year until 2031. The cap applies to “any verdict returned against a health care provider in an action for malpractice.”

How does this compare to the State of California? While California does not have a cap on overall damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, California does have a cap on non-economic damages for things such as pain, suffering, and loss of companionship. The Medical Injury Compensation Recovery Act of 1975, known as MICRA, sets a limit on non-economic damages at no more than $250,000 in California. This cap on non-economic damages has not changed in over 36 years!!!

Using an inflation calculator based on data from U.S. government’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), $250,000 in 1975 is equivalent to a whopping $1,023.341 in the year 2011. That’s an increase of over 300%. Or, another way of putting it, $250,000 in 2011 is equivalent to only $61,074 in 1975.

The non-economic damages cap in California is particularly unfair to young children, the elderly, the disabled, and stay-at-home parents. Basically, anyone who was not working or underemployed at the time of their injury or death. As a result of the substantial costs involved in pursuing a medical malpractice case, the cap on non-economic damages prevents many California citizens who have been harmed by a doctor or hospital, through no fault of their own, from being able to seek justice.

For more information, or if you or a loved one, have been injured as the result of medical malpractice in California, please contact the experienced lawyers at Mulligan, Banham & Findley. Our telephone number is 619-238-8700.

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