A recent ruling in a California Appellate Court has major implications for medical malpractice cases.
In Keys vs. Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, plaintiffs’ counsel scored a major victory for their clients, in a decision that allows for an injured plaintiff to exceed the $250,000 MICRA cap through a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
MICRA, The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975, is a law intended to lower medical malpractice liability insurance premiums for healthcare providers by decreasing their potential tort liability. MICRA set non-economic damages (such as emotional distress) to be capped at $250,000. Only two other states have a cap this low, and many states have no cap at all.
Keys vs. Alta Bates Summit Medical Center involved a case of a 67-year-old woman who died after undergoing partial thyroidectomy at Alta Bates Medical Center. Following the surgery, the patient was having difficulty breathing. The plaintiffs, her surviving sister and daughter, alleged that no one came to her aid quickly despite the obvious need for medical care. The jury returned a wrongful death verdict of $1,000,000, which was reduced per MICRA. The jury additionally awarded the decedent’s daughter $175,000 and the decedent’s sister was awarded $200,000 for their Negligently Inflicted Emotional Distress.
The 1st Appellate District, Division 3 upheld the original verdict in a 2-1 decision. This is the first time an appellate court has upheld a claim for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress in a medical malpractice case since the Supreme Court authored Ochoa in 1985.
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