California Supreme Court Agrees To Evaluate Constitutionality of Medical Malpractice Damages Cap

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After California voters in November voted against a proposal to raise the state’s cap on medical malpractice damages, it appears that the state’s Supreme Court will have the final say on the matter, and could very well decide to rule against popular opinion.

The state’s current malpractice cap is $250,000, and it has been in place for 39 years since California passed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act in 1975. Proposition 46 would have raised the cap to $1.1 million, well over the median $600,000 that gets awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits, but calculated mostly by adjusting for inflation since 1975.

California Healthline notes that 67.1% of California voters rejected the proposition back in November, but the stat’es Supreme Court has recently agreed to review the Hughes v. Pham case, which would challenge the constitutionality of the 1975 Reform Act.

The Hughes v. Pham lawsuit is perhaps one of the most drastic cases of malpractice victims being denied what a court of law had bestowed: Trent Hughes had filed a malpractice lawsuit against his neurosurgeon Christopher Pham, who delayed giving medical treatment to Hughes after an off-road vehicle crash, causing Hughes to become a paraplegic. The jury originally awarded Hughes $2.75 million for his pain and suffering, but because of the state’s limit on malpractice damages, Hughes was only able to collect $250,000.

Although Pham argues that there was “insufficient evidence to establish causation” between his treatment of Hughes and Hughes becoming a paraplegic, many agree with Hughes that the cap barely covers what he rightfully deserves, and that the state’s current cap “arbitrarily and irrationally singles out the most severely injured victims of medical medical malpractice.”

Even if the court decides not to change the cap, it could still decide to change the way in which damages are calculated and paid out, and if previous settlements should be taken into account when awarding pain and suffering damages to a plaintiff.

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