Misdiagnosis in San Gabriel Valley Hospital Leads to Child’s Death: Case Settles for $250,000 Due to California Medical Malpractice Damages Caps
Ten-year-old Daniela Zelig died in March 2012 from pneumonia less than a day after her mother took her to an urgent care center in Baldwin Park, a San Gabriel Valley community about 20 minutes east of Los Angeles. Doctors at the urgent care center examined her briefly and then released her with a diagnosis of viral flu and without any prescription for antibiotics, according to an article in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Young Daniela died the following day from pneumonia. According to the article, Kaiser Permanente recently settled with the family for $265,000.
While a plaintiff in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit can recover for the full amount of economic damages, such as medical expenses, noneconomic damages are capped at $250,000 under the California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). Noneconomic damages compensate victims of negligence for harm they endure such as pain and suffering, mental anguish or emotional distress. This cap may change in the near future, however. Consumer Watchdog is currently circulating an initiative petition to put a question on the California ballot in 2014 to adjust the 1975 rates for inflation, which would bring the cap up to a little over one million dollars (see Initiative Petition Seeks to Increase Damages Cap in California Medical Malpractice Case).
What is the life of a human being worth when a child has been untimely taken from her family due to the negligence of another? As hard as it may be to answer that question, there are many factors which can be considered, and a jury is an appropriate body to decide the issue based on the evidence presented to it in a court of law. The courts have rules in place to deal with frivolous lawsuits, and insurance company defense lawyers can utilize these rules to make sure their clients are not forced to pay meritless claims. But when truly tragic harm occurs, what is the rationale for telling a family they are limited to $250,000 because the negligence occurred in an urgent care center and not in an automobile accident or some other setting? Is justice served by limiting the damages against a giant corporation like Kaiser Permanente – the largest managed care organization in the country – to $250,000 when it carries over $50 Billion ($50,000,000,000) in operating revenue? The voters of California may get a chance to answer those questions this fall.