$265,000 Settlement in California Medical Malpractice Case Shows the Tragedy of Arbitrary Mandated Settlement Limits

In March of 2012, the family of a 10-year-old California girl took her to Kaiser Permanente’s Baldwin Park Medical Center because she was suffering from a fever, vomiting and shortness of breath. A day later, after being examined and released by a doctor following a brief examination at the urgent care center, she died.

Now, almost two years after the tragic death of the girl, Daniela Zelig, her family reached a miniscule $265,000 settlement with Kaiser Permanente to end legal proceedings surrounding their daughter’s care, according to a Jan. 14 story in The San Gabriel Valley Tribune newspaper.

Daniela apparently died of undiagnosed pneumonia after the doctor in the urgent care center failed to adequately evaluate her worsening condition, her family’s attorneys told the paper.

In such a case, a plaintiff could sue for medical malpractice and collect an appropriate award based on the factors in the case, the medical treatment that was or was not performed and the failure of the medical staff to provide accepted and proper medical treatment to a patient in distress.

In this case, however, and in many cases like it, miniscule settlements that do not properly punish errant doctors and medical centers are now reached because of arbitrary, unfair and insensitive laws that limit the amount of damages that patients and their families can collect after they are harmed.

That’s what happened in the case of Daniela’s family.

One of her family’s attorneys told the paper that the girl was one of the very last patients in the urgent care center on the night that her mother took her in for treatment, and that she was given “a very cursory examination. She was basically told she had a viral flu and that they didn’t need to have any antibiotics.”

The attorney “suspects the doctor did not give Zelig the proper examination because of the late hour,” the paper reported. Instead of immediately reacting to the apparent severity of her condition, Daniela “was discharged with a high fever, unstable vital signs and a life-threatening infection,” the attorney told the paper. Her condition worsened overnight and she was taken to an emergency room elsewhere the next morning, where the girl died. The cause of her death was listed as pneumonia, the attorney told the paper.

The tragedy didn’t end there, however. The girl’s family sued Kaiser Permanente over her care but ran up against California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which sets an arbitrary recovery limit of $250,000 in medical malpractice cases.

“The family fought with Kaiser until December when they finally accepted the settlement agreement” because of the cap, the paper reported.

That’s an outright travesty of justice for this family, and it’s also a sad fact that this kind of arbitrary cap on damages that can be received by a plaintiff in the United States is becoming more common in many states.

The lawyer for the family “called the payout a ‘pittance’ for Kaiser,” The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported. “The family feels as if Kaiser is really not experiencing any true consequence by virtue of what happened to their daughter,” the lawyer said. “To them, it is just the cost of doing business.”

These arbitrary caps have been adopted around the nation by legislators and legislatures who accepted huge political campaign donations from doctors and medical facilities and then unleashed new laws that protect bad doctors and bad medicine at the expense of harming families and patients who receive sub-standard care.

This case is an absolute embarrassment.

What incentive does Kaiser Permanente have to police themselves in future incidents – and there will certainly be future cases like this one again – when the consequence of their sloppy behavior is really meaningless to them?

And what do we as a society say to the family who has lost a child in this kind of case? Here is a mere $265,000 for your incredible loss? OK, go and have a good day?

Most medical care today is delivered by corporations – well-endowed, well-insured corporations. This image of the mom and pop practitioner is a thing of the past.

And in cases like this, with arbitrary medical malpractice recovery limits, these corporations virtually get away scot-free when something goes very wrong with their patient care. They often overwork their medical staffs and these are the consequences. And the result is that patients are getting poor medical care, with limited abilities to sue for adequate damages when all hell breaks loose.

All Americans need to be enraged about such arbitrary medical malpractice recovery limits. We must all call our legislators and other government officials and tell them of our disgust with these kinds of back-door deals that are being made in courthouses across the nation that are hurting victims and their families. Unfair and arbitrary settlement caps are simply bad for victims and their families and futures.

The heartbreaking case involving young Daniela Zelig is a somber reminder of the kinds of problems that can arise when patients seek medical treatment in doctor’s offices, hospitals and other medical facilities and become innocent victims of inadequate or incorrect procedures. Patients and their families must be vigilant about the medical care they receive so they know what is being done for a patient’s care every step of the way. But at the same time, patients and families aren’t doctors and they can’t know every question to ask.

That’s where skilled, expert, compassionate and thorough legal representation is needed by patients and their families who have been harmed by medical errors or omissions during their treatment. These kinds of cases happen on a regular basis, but they can be fought by legal teams that are prepared to battle for their clients’ rights all along the way to a fair settlement or to a just verdict.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in a medical malpractice or related case anywhere in the United States. We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-(866) 352-4572 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

When Winning Matters Most, Call MyPhillyLawyer.