Tort Reform And Its Questionable Success

January 16, 2010

Tort Reform: Questionable Success and Obvious Shortcomings

How are patients limited by tort reform?

The core of many tort reform bills is the limitation of non-economic damages. This includes compensation for pain and suffering. What happens when a malpractice victim faces no immediate economic damages? For example, what of elderly and young victims who are not employed? What of grieving families who face life without a loved one?

Charles and Shirley Ethier’s son was admitted to a San Francisco emergency room with a head laceration after being struck in the head with a surfboard. Despite the possibility of a serious head injury, the doctor who treated him failed to order a CT scan or even palpate the wound. Instead, the physician simply stitched him up and sent him home.

He wasn’t there for long. The Ethiers’ son had fractured his skull, and was suffering from extensive cerebral hemorrhaging. The sustained pressure on his brain eventually rendered him brain dead and he later died.

The jury quickly found for the Ethiers and awarded them $3 million in wrongful death damages — which the judge was forced to immediately reduce to $250,000, the amount allowed under MICRA for non-economic damages.

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