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California Supreme Court to Review Caps on Medical Malpractice Awards

Us Supreme Court Entrance

The California Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of medical malpractice awards for pain and suffering. Currently, state law limits damages to a maximum of $250,000, under the 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act.

In November, California residents voted on Proposition 46 ─ a law created to raise the limit on pain-and-suffering awards, but 67.1% of people voted against it. The measure also called for mandating hospitals to perform drug tests on doctors and requiring doctors to check a statewide database prior to prescribing certain drugs.

California medical malpractice awards

A number of California medical malpractice awards have been drastically decreased due to the MICRA.

In one example, Hughes vs. Pham, Trent and Lisa Hughes claim that Trent Hughes became a paraplegic because his neurosurgeon, Christopher Pham, deferred treatment following an off-road vehicle accident. A jury awarded $2.75 million in non-economic damages to Hughes, but the amount was cut to $250,000 under MICRA.

A California appeals court upheld the decision in September, ruling against Pham in all issues except the structure of the judgment. The Hughes claim the cap violates the equal protection guaranteed under the Constitution. They assert that it “arbitrarily and irrationally singles out the most severely injured victims of medical malpractice for unfavorable treatment.”

Conversely, Pham claims there was not enough evidence to substantiate an award for future medical costs.

In Rashidi vs. Moser, Franklin Moser operated on Hamid Rashidi to treat the plaintiff’s nose bleeds. During the procedure, Moser used embosphere particles, manufactured by Biosphere Medical, Inc.

Following the surgery, Rashidi was left permanently blind in one eye. Rashidi filed a medical malpractice, battery and product liability lawsuit against Moser, the hospital where the surgery was performed and Biosphere. The hospital and Biosphere settled before the trial.

Ultimately, the jury awarded Rashidi a monetary award for future medical care as a result of Moser’s negligence ─ in addition to specific sums for both past and future noneconomic damages. The trial court decreased the amount of Rashidi’s noneconomic damages award to comply with the MICRA.

Reactions to the court’s decision

Consumer advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog supported Proposition 46. The group was pleased with the California Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case.

Pam Pressley, Consumer Watchdog litigation director, wrote an amicus brief asking the court to take the case. “Several states in recent years have determined that their own damages caps were unconstitutional and unjust ─ it’s time for California to join them,” wrote Pressley. “Families who have lost loved ones and victims of medical negligence deserve the justice and accountability that the damages cap denies.”

Another advocate, Valerie Nannery, an attorney for the plaintiffs at the Center for Constitutional, said “Now that Proposition 46 has been defeated there may be more reason for the court to take the constitutional issues up in this case.”

Conversely, Kenny Pedroza, a lawyer for the defendant said he does not believe the court will contemplate the constitutionality of the cap. In its place, Pedroza thinks the court will determine how non-economic damages should be paid.

  1. League of Women Voters of California, In Depth on Measure Proposition 46: Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors. Medical Negligence Lawsuits

  2. California Healthline, Calif. Supreme Court To Hear Case Over Medical Malpractice Awards

  3. The Recorder, Rashidi v. Moser

  4. Texas for Lawsuit Reform, California’s Top Court to Address Med-Mal Cap Issue