A look at medical malpractice in California

Patients should educate themselves about California’s laws governing medical malpractice so that they can get help when and if needed.

From Coronado to Carlsbad, the San Diego are offers residents the opportunity for a great quality of life. Beautiful scenery flanked by the expansive Pacific Ocean and a temperate climate year round are just some of the reasons that people choose to live in this area.

However, these are only some of the realities that face area residents. Tragic situations can arise and are often in the form of medical malpractice. Understanding the risks and the laws that govern these situations is important for all people.

How extensive is the problem?

Becker's Hospital Review published a report from Deidrich Healthcare showing medical malpractice claim information for the year 2013. It provides data on claim resolutions, reasons for claims and financial impact. Overall, 38 states paid more money out in claims related to medical errors in 2013 than they did in 2012 and California's increase in payouts was larger than that of any other state with a jump of $51 million.

Nationwide, the amount of money paid in 2013 was nearly five percent greater than in 2012. Other statistics show the following:

  • Inpatient claims accounted for 45 percent of all payouts.
  • Outpatient claims accounted for 38 percent of all payouts.
  • Errors relating to diagnoses were the reason for 33 percent of all cases.
  • Surgical errors were the named problem in another 28 percent of cases.
  • Problems related to treatments were cited in 18 percent of cases.

A total of 96 percent of all claims paid in 2013 were the result of settlements as opposed to trial judgments.

California's laws governing medical malpractice

As noted by the California Courts, patients must file any malpractice claim for personal injury within two years of the date that the injury took place or within one year of the date that it was discovered. This accounts for situations in which errors may not be detectable immediately.

As in many other states, California has a limit on the amount of money that can be awarded to patients for pain and suffering, often referred to as non-economic damages. A CBS news story highlights a current ballot measure to raise this cap from its current $250,000 threshold to $1.1 million. If passed, this bill would also require physicians with hospital privileges to participate in random substance testing and also to consult a statewide database before prescribing select medications.

Legal help makes a difference

When a medical error is suspected, patients or their family members may be unsure of where to turn. Talking to an attorney is advised as a legal professional can offer experience and guidance on how to proceed.

Keywords: medical malpractice, negligence, injury