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Medical Malpractice By Doctors or Other Care Providers Can Be Decreased

Many politicians and citizens believe that trial lawyers are responsible for medical malpractice lawsuits.  Bunk!  According to a blog post by Pro Publica it’s long been known that medical errors are a major problem—a national panel concludedmore than a decade ago that nearly 100,000 people die each year as a result of errors in hospitals. Despite the resulting national focus on patient safety, patients continue to be harmed and killed by medical shortcuts, inadequate training and breakdowns in communication.

Pro Publica notes that

Unlike the airline industry, which relies on a safety net of checklists, the medical community has been slow to adopt them in all areas and often puts its faith in the outdated idea that doctors are infallible.

Time and again reporters have uncovered unfathomable lapses at medical facilities, often resulting in patient injuries and death. Time and again, hospital officials have put in place solutions that seem ridiculously obvious.  And the fixes are frequently ignored or ineffective.”

Californians face a statutory cap on pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.  Attorneys fees are also capped.  In an state that has essentially tried to legislate away medical malpractice cases, they are still filed at an alarming rate.

Since the 1970s California  has limited the amount of attorneys fees in medical malpractice cases to 40 percent of the first $50,000, 33 1/3 percent of the next $50,000, 25 percent of the next $500,000, and 15 percent of any amount that exceeds $600,000. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 6146 (West 1990). This limit applies regardless of whether the recovery is by settlement, arbitration, or judgment.  If the contingent fee arrangement is based on an award of periodic payments, the court is to place a total value on the payments based upon the projected life expectancy of the claimant, and then calculate the contingent fee percentages.

More importantly, California law places a cap on non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases. Non-economic damages, defined as compensation for pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, and other non-pecuniary injury, are limited to $250,000.  The cap applies whether the case is for injury or death.

Pro Publica reports that

In mid-2003, reporters began writing about problems at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, a public hospital near Los Angeles with a troubling history of poor patient care.

One of their first stories detailed how a nurse in the cardiac monitoring unit failed to notice that her patient’s heart had slowed and stopped for more than 45 minutes. The nurse wrote on the patient’s chart that she was not in distress, even though her heart had already stopped. Two weeks later another patient on a monitor died after her failing condition also went unnoticed.

After the deaths, Los Angeles County health officials vowed that nurses and technicians in monitoring units had been retrained and new procedures had been put in place to prevent such events from ever happening again.

Over the next two years, however, five more patients in King/Drew’s monitoring units died in similar circumstances. In some cases, nurses were found not only to have neglected patients as they lay dying, but to have purposely turned down the alarms on the monitors or lied about their actions on patient charts.

A county supervisor said he was confounded by hospital’s inability to correct basic problems. “You can yell, scream, jump up and down, but things don’t seem to change.” The hospital closed in 2007.

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