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Family Tries to Challenge Constitutionality of California Malpractice Compensation Law

Tort reform laws take many shapes. At one end of the spectrum are laws which severely curtail the rights of patients to even bring medical malpractice lawsuits and then impose arbitrary restrictions on the amount of damages that can be awarded. Some states have passed laws less restrictive, though still very damaging. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers understand that many of these laws may violate state constitutions. Our own Illinois Supreme Court ruled that they did when similar laws were passed over the past two decades.

Those in different states are still fighting the battle.

California MICRA
For example, the California legislature passed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) in 1975. The law limits the financial awards in medical malpractice lawsuits in the state. By far the most controversial aspect of the law are the arbitrary limits placed on pain and suffering awards or damages for the emotional loss of a loved ones. There is a cap of $250,000. Illinois medical malpractice attorneys understand the harm caused to injured patients as a result of these laws. It is especially tragic in that the law does not provide much “benefit” to anyone, except the medical lobby and insurance companies.

Challenging the Law
Last week the Huffington Post reported on a new challenge to the law. The family of a man filed a medical malpractice lawsuit after he died in a 2008 surgery. Following the trial, the man’s anesthesiologist was found partially liable for the death. The doctor ordered post-operation drugs, leaving the man with the nurse. However, before waking up the surgical patient stopped breathing and died. A cosmetic surgeon and nurse were also named in the suit. The anesthesiologist was deemed 20% at fault for the man’s passing.

The family was awarded $2.9 million in economic damages and $1 million for emotional loss. However, because of MICRA, the emotional loss award was cut to $50,000–20% of the cap limit. In the end, that means that the four family members received $12,50 each for the emotional loss of losing their husband and father.

In appealing the decision the family claims that MICRA is unconstitutional. More specifically, the appeal claims that the law denies the family the full right to a jury trial and violates the equal protection clause by treating medical malpractice plaintiffs differently than others. For example, the law does not apply to plaintiffs who have been hurt in a car accidents or other incidents.

The injustice of the law is particularly hard on certain types of medical malpractice victims, particularly those who cannot show high economic losses. This means that seniors or retired individuals often receive far less for the same injury that might strike one in the prime of their career. Also, some individuals are severely maimed or disfigured as a result of an error. They may be able to go back to work after the injury, however. As a result, they are likely not able to point to high economic losses and may receive little redress for the serious injuries.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

State Supreme Court Grants New Trial in Medical Malpractice Case

Example of Hurdles to Final Resolution in Medical Malpractice Cases

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