MALPRACTICE CAP: Suit Says ‘Patient-Dumping’ Exempt From $250K Limit
Arguing that the death of an 18-month-old infant was caused by her insurance status, a lawsuit filed in California Supreme Court Friday asked for the state's $250,000 cap on malpractice damages to be lifted "when a hospital violates the federal 'patient dumping' law." Lawyers for the family of Mychelle Barris, whose treatment for a life-threatening bacterial infection was delayed so she could be treated at a hospital affiliated with Kaiser Permanente, argue that violations of the anti-dumping law should be handled differently from malpractice cases. But lawyers for Los Angeles County, which operates King Drew Medical Center, the hospital the child was originally admitted to, counter that the hospital's decision to transfer her was "inextricably intertwined with medical judgement," and should therefore be subject to the cap. Jurors awarded the child's parents more than $1.35 million in damages, but an appeals court reduced the award to $250,000 under terms of the liability limit.
A Different Standard
Representing the Barris family, Sharon Arkin of Consumers for Quality Care said, "Here, the doctor knew what to do and the doctor wanted to do it. The only reason he didn't was because of Kaiser." King Drew Dr. Trach Phoung Dang ordered blood tests for Barris, who suffered from the bacterial infection septicemia, but she spent the next 3 1/2 hours en route to Kaiser Permanente Hospital, where she died of cardiac arrest. Dang was found 75% at fault for the death and the hospital was found to have violated anti-dumping laws by failing to stabilize the girl before she was transferred.
Leaning Towards Defendant?
The AP/Sacramento Bee reports that the court appeared to favor the arguments of Los Angeles County lawyer Alison Turner, with several justices "seem[ing] to agree that patient-dumping was a form of medical malpractice." Justice Marvin Baxter questioned whether Congress would have wanted to "undermine California's effort to limit health care costs" (Egelko, 1/9).