After actor John Ritter died in 2003 from an aortic dissection, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against multiple doctors and a hospital. The family settled with the hospital and other people involved for $14 million but sought another $67 million at trial against remaining doctors, alleging that Ritter’s cardiologist misdiagnosed his aortic dissection as a heart attack, consequently mistreating it. Further, the suit alleged that a radiologist failed to perform an x-ray which could have shown the aortic dissection, leading to a missed opportunity for Ritter to receive potentially life-saving surgery. The jury, however, disagreed with his family’s arguments and found in favor of the defendant doctors.
While the Ritter family did not receive the $67 million they asked for, the case still showed the inequities of capping medical malpractice awards. For loss of income, there is normally no cap or a very high one, where as loss of companionship has very low limits. This means that wealthy people, who would have made more in their lifetime, can be awarded larger settlements for the same issues. Often this means that a case on behalf of a decedent who was retired, unemployed, or otherwise not making much money will not be worth filing because of caps on potential awards. Conversely, the same case on behalf of a decedent who was making a large amount of money will be worth filing because the award may be greater since loss of income will have a high cap, if one at all. For example, Ritter’s family could have been awarded a large amount because he had huge earning potential, whereas an unemployed person who died in the same manner would not have been able to receive nearly as large an award because their earning potential was so much smaller.
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