Ben Ikuta of Hodes Milman, LLP recently settled a wrongful death case against a Los Angeles area hospital. On January 20, 2017, the 66-year old Decedent successfully underwent a thrombectomy and angioplasty surrounding a clotted fistula at a different hospital. At that time, Decedent was unmarried, retired, and had end-stage renal disease and was the fistula was necessary for his dialysis treatment.
In the early morning of January 21, 2017, Decedent started to bleed profusely from the fistula. Even though Decedent was supposed to be closely monitored in the telemetry unit, it is not clear when the bleeding occurred. The hospital attempted to transfer the patient to the Cardiac Care Unit for a higher level of care but he ended up bleeding to death in the hallway. The Korean-born Decedent was extremely close two his two adult children, aged 25 and 26 at the time of his death. When the children were infants, their mother unexpectedly left them all and the children have no memories of their mother. Decedent raised both children as a single father and the family spoke every single day. The night prior to his death, the Decedent called his daughter and told her that he loved her and was excited to be discharged.
The settlement was bittersweet. On one hand, Ben was happy to obtain a well-deserved recovery for the two children. However, because the Decedent was retired, the case was almost entirely limited by the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act was passed in 1975, or “MICRA” for short. MICRA is one of the earliest tort reform laws and was passed in 1975 in response to a perceived “crisis” of rising costs of premiums for medical malpractice insurance as a result of runaway juries. In reality, the insurance companies pushed for MICRA due to a series of bad investments and a downturn in the economy in the early-to-mid 70s. We now know that the “crisis” was actually created by the insurance industry to make tort reform attractive to the politicians in Sacramento and it worked spectacularly.
MICRA put a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages – those that are designed to compensate the surviving heirs for their profound loss of love, companionship, society, affection, and guidance of the deceased. In 1975, $250,000 was a significant amount of money, but today the value of the cap has eroded to about $50,000 in 1975 dollars. However, MICRA has not risen a cent since 1975 to account for inflation. In a case like this one, where there is no economic damages (such as lost wages or future medical expenses), the most that the heirs can receive total (even if there is more than one heir) is $250,000.
Knowing that $250,000 is the absolute worst case scenario at trial, insurance companies will rarely settle for the full $250,000. As such, on one hand, obtaining 90% of the absolute max a judge/jury can award at trial is a great result. On the other hand, Ben’s clients’ damages for the loss of their only parent far exceeded $225,000.