Broken Hospital Bed Leads to Unique Challenge to Malpractice Cap Law

The Texas Tribune is reporting on an unfolding legal story that highlights the unique ways in which hospitals make errors and puts the unfairness of medical malpractice caps in a new light.

The situation arose following an event that occurred at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital several years ago. Irving Marks was at the facility to have back surgery performed and to recuperate following the procedure. The actual back operation went forward without a hitch. However, while lying in bed following the procedure, Marks suffered a terrible fall in his hospital room. It was eventually discovered that the fall was caused by a broken footboard on the bed to which he was assigned.

A lawsuit was filed so that the negligent hospital would assist Marks with his medical payments following his re-injury after the hospital fall. Interestingly, the hospital argued that the lawsuit was limited by the medical malpractice law which puts a cap on certain damages at $250,000. Marks attorneys conversely suggested that the law did not apply, because the faulty bed problem was distinct from the medical errors that supposedly fall under the cap.

Judges at all levels of the system disagreed on the appropriate result. The state’s Supreme Court eventually decided in a close 5-4 ruling that the medical malpractice law did not apply in this case.

The back-and-forth on the issue offers a clear example of the illogical reasoning behind medical malpractice caps. For example, if Marks had suffered a terrible injury during the back surgery itself, than there would have been an arbitrary limit to the amount of money that a jury could award him. Yet, because his injury occurred while on the hospital bed after the surgery, there now is no limit. Even if the harm to Marks was identical in both cases, he would receive one award in one case and a lesser award in another. There is no actual logic to that outcome, only an arbitrary, irrational, infringement on the rights of some patients over others.

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers at Levin & Perconti believe that there is a better way. Faith should be placed where it has always been-in the legal system itself. Instead of capricious rules that penalize certain patients through no fault of their own, our legal system should provide individualized attention to fairly assess each legal situation. Trust should be placed in judges and juries to properly hear evidence following each case, decide fault, and then award damages based on the individualized evidence that was presented. That is the only logical, time-tested, fair way to dispense justice in our system. Medical malpractice caps take a sledgehammer to that system and mandate arbitrary decisions in all cases. The result is that patients who are victimized during surgery are punished, while those hurt in the bed after the procedure somehow are not. The law should be changed.

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