Often it is difficult to put malpractice caps into perspective in the abstract-personal stories of grievous loss caused by medical errors are apt.
The Los Angeles Times shares the story of a 17-year old girl who had corrective heart surgery shortly before going to college. The procedure would only take a few hours and the girl had gone through the same operation several times in the past. The teen was supposed to be back home for dinner that night.
However, a few hours later the girl’s mother was told that an “incident” had occurred during the operation, depriving the victim of oxygen. The girl was placed on a breathing tube, but she would never recover. A week later her parents were forced to make the excruciating decision of removing her from the ventilator and taking out an internal breathing tube. The girl died shortly after.
The family pressed the hospital for more answers to better understand what happened to their daughter. However, the hospital provided little more than general, inconclusive explanations. The family was forced to sift through confusing medical records on their own in an attempt to put the pieces together. The grieving mother explained that the process made her realize the difficulty faced by families of malpractice victims.
She admitted, “I could imagine this happening over and over again because families don’t have the resources to find out how their loved one passed away. We had to claw our way through the system.”
The family decided to sue the hospital so that they could actually learn more about what happened. They initially had trouble finding legal representation because of the state cap on malpractice damages. However, one law firm took the case and filed suit. Eventually, it was discovered that the postdoctoral fellow had removed the young girl’s catheters without doctor supervision with the assistance of another fellow who hadn’t even been cleared to see patients.
Because of the cap on damages, the attorneys were forced to urge the Cull’s to settle the case for $250,000-the maximum allowed under the law. The trial process was cut short. The family plans to use the funds to start a scholarship fund in their daughter’s name. However, the first-hand experience has led them to understand how the threat of a larger settlement might have forced the hospital to have been more forthright about what happened.