Judge Reduces ‘Landmark’ Pain Management Award to $250,000
An Alameda County judge on Monday "slashed" a "landmark" $1.5 million jury award to the children of a Hayward man who died "in intractable pain" to $250,000, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In June, a jury found Dr. Wing Chin, an internist at Eden Valley Medical Center in Castro Valley, guilty of elder abuse and "reckless negligence" for undermedicating 85-year-old William Bergman while he was dying of "probable" lung cancer in 1998. The advocacy group Compassion in Dying said that the original jury ruling was the first of its kind in the nation. Judge David Hunter ruled that a state law limiting general damages in medical malpractice cases to $250,000 applies to the Bergmans' award. Plaintiffs' attorney Jim Geagan said that he would appeal the limit on damages, arguing that the $250,000 malpractice limit does not apply to elder abuse cases. Hunter said, "There is ... some confusion in the law. Perhaps this is a case that needs to be decided by the Supreme Court so there will be some clear direction given" (Hendricks, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/21).
Despite the reduced award, the ruling "is forcing doctors and patients to re-examine" the "fundamental" question of "[h]ow and when ... [to] treat pain," the San Jose Mercury News reports. Health advocates said that the decision may result in "dramatically improved" pain management for patients. However, some doctors "fear" that the case will have a "negative impact" on pain treatment, warning that physicians may "give in" to patient demands for "powerful, addictive narcotics" to avoid lawsuits. According to the Mercury News, the decision sends a "clear message" that patients do not have to suffer "aggravated levels" of pain and doctors who "don't heed this warning are going to pay the consequences." Assembly member Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) has proposed a bill (AB 487) that would include pain management classes as part of regular continuing education for doctors. The bill will likely "go before" Gov. Gray Davis (D) in September (Lyons, San Jose Mercury News, 8/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.