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Will California's cap for medical malpractice lawsuits be raised?

Many people in Santa Clara County, California, have trusted their health to a doctor's knowledge and judgment at some point.
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    December 03, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Many people in Santa Clara County, California, have trusted their health to a doctor's knowledge and judgment at some point. Doctors can save lives and spare people significant suffering, but unfortunately, doctors and other care workers can also make mistakes that have terrible consequences. When this occurs, victims have the right to pursue compensation.

Since 1975, people seeking compensation for pain and suffering due to medical malpractice in California have faced a cap of $250,000. Now, reformers are seeking to raise that limit, which may allow more people to seek legal help and pursue the compensation that they are entitled to.

Disturbing medical malpractice trends

Earlier this year, an Irish research team reviewed malpractice literature from five countries, including the U.S., as reported by CBS. The most common mistakes were missed diagnoses for diseases including cancer, heart attacks, ectopic pregnancy and bone fractures. Drug errors were the next leading claim. The study found that fatalities were the most common outcome of a missed diagnosis.

Even when victims do survive, missed diagnoses, drug errors and other mistakes can significantly impact quality of life, leading to pain, stress and changes in lifestyle. Medical malpractice victims have the right to seek compensation for their pain and suffering. Reformers in California, however, worry that many cannot do so, because the low cap does not leave plaintiffs enough money for their injuries.

California allows victims of medical malpractice to seek compensation for general damages as well as economic damages, which include lost wages and medical bills. Economic damages are not capped, but a Los Angeles Times editorial points out that this may unevenly affect groups with lower income or less earning power, including women, children and the elderly.

Now, according to the Sacramento Bee, reformers are seeking to lift the limit imposed by the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act almost four decades ago. This may make it easier for more people to seek legal aid and compensation.

Proposed changes

The Sacramento Bee reports that, after lobbying to raise the cap, a coalition has filed paperwork to put the issue on the ballot next year. The following changes are currently proposed:
- The general damages cap would be raised to approximately $1.1 million
- The cap would be able to rise with inflation rather than being locked in
- Doctors and surgeons would be subject to random alcohol and drug testing
- Physicians would be required to use a prescription-tracking database

Critics worry that these changes could contribute to rising healthcare costs. However, proponents believe that using a cap set more than 30 years ago simply does not make sense. Furthermore, by implementing better tracking of prescriptions and substance abuse testing, these changes could reduce the risk of medical malpractice errors occurring in the first place.

People seeking compensation for medical malpractice in California may see very different outcomes in the future. For now, it is still important for people who have been harmed by medical negligence to look into all of their options.

Anyone who has been the victim of a hospital error or doctor's mistake should meet with an attorney to discuss legal recourse.

Article provided by Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, LLP
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