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.