Consumer Watchdog Fighting California Medical Malpractice Award Cap

Citing current laws as outdated, consumer education and advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has begun a campaign to do away with California’s cap on damages for pain and loss of enjoyment in medical malpractice lawsuits.

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which passed in 1975 to combat rising insurance premiums and keep doctors practicing in California, set a cap of $250,000 for all types of damage in malpractice cases other than medical expenses and loss of income. The cap was never indexed to inflation–it has remained at $250,000 since the bill was signed into law more than 35 years ago.

According to the website of these Massachusetts personal injury lawyers, even experienced doctors occasionally fail to obey proper conduct rules and make minor to severe mistakes. In fact, estimates show that as many as 195,000 people die each year due to the negligence of medical professionals. Victims of medical malpractice claim MICRA prevents them from gaining suitable compensation for their resulting injuries, particularly in terms of pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment. These kinds of damages are difficult to monetize, as there is no way to dependably measure the personal cost of losing a limb or becoming sterile.

Consumer Watchdog has stated its intention to add a ballot initiative for the November 2014 election that would update MICRA with a cap indexed to inflation or remove the cap entirely. Support for such an initiative is mixed: according to the Sacramento Business Journal, a recent survey of voters in California showed that more than 50 percent think the $250,000 damages cap is “too high or about right.”

According to spokespeople from Consumer Watchdog, a victim of medical malpractice should not only gain compensation for economic loss, but also for necessary changes in lifestyle and loss of enjoyment. The organization urges anyone who has been injured by medical malpractice to contact an experienced attorney to determine if they are eligible for compensation.

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Judge’s Ruling Sends Message to Negligent WV Nursing Home

A judge recently upheld a 2011 ruling that requires West Virginia nursing home chain HCR ManorCare to pay more than $90 million in a wrongful death suit. HCR ManorCare, which owns the Heartland of Charleston nursing home, was found responsible for negligent treatment of resident Dorothy Douglas, who died in 2009 from dehydration complications.

Several months after the 2011 jury verdict was reached in Douglas’s case, Heartland of Charleston was implicated in a second wrongful death suit. In the second case, staff failed to treat resident Christina L. Frazier’s infections, leading to her premature death.

In Douglas’s case, Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. upheld the jury’s original verdict, which called for $11.5 million in compensatory damages for Douglas’s family and $80 million in punitive damages. According to the website of a personal injury lawyer, punitive damages are fines leveled against the defendant to stop future negligent behavior. If you’ve been fined thousands of dollars for doing something you shouldn’t have done, you’re less likely to do it again in the future. If you are financially impacted by the fine, that is.

Lawyers for HCR ManorCare argued in May that West Virginia’s medical malpractice laws, which call for a cap on damages, should apply to the wrongful death suit and limit the settlement to no more than $500,000. However, Judge Zakaib Jr. ruled that the state’s Nursing Home Care Act does not require such a cap, and the $90 million settlement is legal. HCR ManorCare attorneys have already expressed their desire to appeal the case to West Virginia’s supreme court.

In his April decision, Judge Zakaib Jr. expressed his view that HCR ManorCare’s attempts to maximize profit were reckless and negligent.

“This verdict sends a clear ‘deterrence’ message to a multi-billion dollar nursing home corporation that its misconduct will not be tolerated,” Zakaib Jr. said.

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