Californians recently had an opportunity to change their state’s medical malpractice award cap laws to at least make the caps more reasonable. However, due at least in part to a large scale misinformation campaign about the ballot measure, voters rejected this opportunity. This does not mean that the caps will remain unchanged, however. The California Supreme Court has now agreed to hear a very important case that challenges the constitutionality of the cap. Hopefully the high court, like its sister courts in Illinois and Florida, will strike the misguided cap down and finally allow injured Californians to collect the compensation they deserve.
Hughes v. Pham
The case the Court has agreed to hear is Hughes v. Pham. The lower court’s decision in the case was unpublished, and briefs will not be filed in the Supreme Court for some time, but California Healthline published the basic facts of the case. Trent and Lisa Hughes originally filed suit claiming that Trent Hughes became paraplegic because of Dr. Pham’s negligence. Dr. Pham is a neurosurgeon, and the couple argued that the doctor improperly delayed treating Trent Hughes after Mr. Hughes was injured in an off-road vehicle accident.
The Hughes’ case went to trial, and after hearing all of the evidence in the case, the jurors determined that Dr. Pham was in fact negligent. They also determined that the doctor (in reality, likely his insurance company) should pay the Hughes family $2.75 million for their non-economic damages. That was the number that the jurors reached based on the actual evidence. However, because of California’s ridiculous “Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act,” the trial judge was required to reduce that $2.75 million award to a mere $250,000. So California’s cap cut the number the jury that heard the facts determined to be appropriate by over 90%.
Argument That the Cap is Unconstitutional
On appeal, the Hughes family is arguing that the cap violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution because it “arbitrarily and irrationally singles out the most severely injured victims of medical malpractice for unfavorable treatment.” And that is exactly what this sort of cap does. Proponents of the caps complain that people filing frivolous lawsuits necessitate the caps, but in reality all the caps do is injure those who have the most legitimate claims.
Argument is Similar to Successful Argument in Florida
Earlier this year plaintiffs in Florida were successful in making an extremely similar argument with regards to that state’s medical malpractice cap. In that case, the Florida Supreme Court held, that the $1 million cap was unconstitutional because “it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence” affects more than one person. He explained that the cap resulted in some injured people receiving full compensation while arbitrarily denying others compensation, meaning people were not treated equally before the law. Hopefully the California Supreme Court will reach this same rational conclusion.
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