Posts Tagged ‘negligence’

What is the Value of an Injured Pet?

October 31, 2012

by Jean-Simon Serrano

In what seems to be a trend of new cases expanding the rights of pet owners, the Court of Appeal for the Second District recently ruled that the usual standard of recovery for a dead or injured pet (market value) is inadequate when applied to injured pets.

The recent case, Martinez v. Robledo, (2012) 2012 Cal. App. LEXIS 1098, which was actually the consolidation of two similar cases, presented the legal issue: What is the measure of damages for the wrongful injury of a pet?

In both of the consolidated cases, the trial court ruled that the measure of damages would be limited to the market value of the injured dogs.

On Appeal, the Court held that a pet owner is not limited to the market value of the pet and may recover the reasonable and necessary costs incurred for the treatment and care of the pet attributable to the injury.

The Court reasoned:

“There can be little doubt that most pets have minimal to no market value, particularly elderly pets. As amicus notes, while people typically place substantial value on their own animal companions, as evidenced by the large sums of money spent on food, medical care, toys, boarding and grooming, etc., there is generally no market for other people’s pets.   We agree that the determination of a pet’s value cannot be made solely by looking to the marketplace. If the rule were otherwise, an injured animal’s owner would bear most or all of the costs for the medical care required to treat the injury caused by a tortfeasor, while the tortfeasor’s liability for such costs would in most cases be minimal, no matter how horrific the wrongdoer’s conduct or how gross the negligence of a veterinarian or other animal professional.”

Using the notion that tort law was designed such that injured parties are to be “made whole,” the Court held, “that allowing an injured pet’s owner to recover the reasonable and necessary costs incurred in the treatment and care for the animal attributable to the injury is a rational and appropriate measure of damages. Such evidence is admissible under Civil Code section 3333 as proof of a plaintiff’s compensable damages. And a defendant may present evidence showing the costs were unreasonable under the circumstances.”

Thus, with this ruling, those who have the misfortune of having their pets injured by another are no longer constrained to the mere market value of their fuzzy friends.  Instead, owners may now recover reasonable costs incurred for the treatment and care of the pet which arose as a result of the injury.

As an animal lover, I believe this ruling is long since overdue and I am pleased to see the Court recognizing that pets have some intrinsic value beyond their mere market or replacement price.

Recent Changes to Jury Fee Rules

October 1, 2012

by Jean-Simon Serrano

In California, if you demand a jury trial, you are required to pay a deposit for exercising that right.  In recent years, prior to June 5, 2012, the Code of Civil Procedure § 631(b) read:

 

“Each party demanding a jury trial shall deposit advance jury fees with the clerk or judge.  The total amount of the advance jury fees may not exceed on hundred fifty ($150) for each party.  The deposit shall be made at least 25 calendar days before the date initially set for trial…” [emphasis added].

 

Earlier this year, Code of Civil Procedure § 631(b) was amended to read:

 

“(b) Each party demanding a jury trial shall deposit advance jury fees with the clerk or judge. The total amount of the advance jury fees shall be one hundred fifty dollars ($150) for each party.

(c) The advance jury fee deposit shall be made on or before the date scheduled for the initial case management conference in the action. If no case management conference is scheduled in a civil action, the advance jury deposit shall be made no later than 365 calendar days after the filing of the initial complaint. If the party has not appeared before the initial case management conference or has appeared more than 365 calendar days after the filing of the initial complaint, the deposit shall be made as provided in subdivision (d).” [emphasis added].

 

There are three things to note: (1) the “fee” is non-refundable; (2) each party is responsible for depositing this fee; and (3) the fee is required to be paid on or before the first Case Management Conference or within one year of the filing of the action.

 

Under the June 5, 2012 Amendment, every plaintiff is required to pay $150.00, in addition to the $450.00 filing fee (Riverside County), simply for bringing a civil action – this could amount to many hundreds of dollars in non-refundable fees being paid in a case where multiple plaintiffs are injured.

 

Additionally, because the vast, vast majority of personal injury cases in California settle before trial (indeed many statutes are engineered to promote the goal of settlement), this non-refundable fee gets paid to the court, never to be used to pay for the plaintiff’s non-existent jury and never to be returned to him/her.  Previously, the jury fees were only to be paid 25 calendar days before the initial trial date and, in many cases, an action would settle before such fees were deposited.  Now, the fee must be paid very early in litigation, often before any meaningful attempts to settle can be made.

 

As a result of much discontent regarding the June amendment to Section 631(b), Assembly Bill 1481 was introduced, passed, and signed into law on September 17th 2012, to take effect immediately.  Code of Civil Procedure § 631(b) now reads:

 

At least one party demanding a jury on each side of a civil case shall pay a nonrefundable fee of one hundred fifty dollars ($150), unless the fee has been paid by another party on the same side of the case. The fee shall offset the costs to the state of providing juries in civil cases. If there are more than two parties to the case, for purposes of this section only, all plaintiffs shall be considered one side of the case, and all other parties shall be considered the other side of the case.” [emphasis added].

 

The language of the Section now requires only one party per side to pay the jury deposit fee.  Unfortunately, the requirement that these fees be deposited on or before the date of the first Case Management Conference remains (a few narrow exceptions are listed in Section 631(c)).

 

It seems clear that the recent changes to these rules were designed to provide the Courts with more funding.  It is also clear that, given the early requirement for depositing such non-refundable fees, this is another non-recoverable cost that must be incurred by a plaintiff in bringing an action for damages.  What are less clear are the implications these rules have on one’s Constitutional Right to a jury trial and whether we will see further outrage like that which resulted in AB 1481.

Five Things To Do After an Accident

July 9, 2012

Should you have the misfortune of being involved in an auto accident, it is important that you gather information and undertake a few responsibilities.

These are the most important steps to take following a collision. Click here for a useful form that you can keep in your vehicle. This form will help you gather important information at the scene of the accident.

1.         Obtain the information listed on our form:

Name, address, telephone number, driver’s license number of all drivers.

Insurance information from all the other drivers (Ins. co. name, telephone number and policy number).

License plate number and (VIN) for all other vehicles.

Name, phone number and address of any eyewitness to the collision.

2.         Report the accident:

immediately to the police and cooperate with them in preparing an accident report. If no police are available to respond to the scene, consider contacting the local police agency to determine if you can complete a report at a later time.  You will also need to fill out and file an SR-1 with the DMV.

to your insurance company, even if you are not at fault. If your insurance policy provides medical payments coverage and you require medical treatment because of the accident, your insurance company will provide you with information about how to use that coverage. Additionally, you may need to make a claim under your policy’s uninsured coverage (if your policy provides such coverage).

3.         Photograph:

Vehicles involved in the accident. Take several photographs that clearly show any damage. Take photographs from different angles and all four sides of the vehicles. Consider keeping a disposable camera in your car for this purpose, although a cell phone that takes quality pictures will work too.

Your injuries.

4.         Seek medical treatment without delay if you are injured or experiencing pain.

5.        Obtain legal advice by calling Heiting & Irwin before meeting with any insurance company representative, filling out insurance documents or giving a recorded statement or medical authorization to any insurance company (even your own). You have no obligation to provide this information before you have had the opportunity to speak with an attorney. If an insurance company representative contacts you before you are prepared to discuss your claims, politely explain that you do not wish to discuss the matter at this time, and you will contact them in the very near future to discuss your claims.

We suggest that you consult with an experienced personal injury firm.  Heiting & Irwin, offers free, no-obligation initial consultations. Our experienced attorneys will provide you with a thorough, thoughtful case evaluation that will help you to decide how best to proceed with your claims. Call (951) 682-6400, email or visit our website for more information.

WHEN TO REFORM TORT REFORM

May 17, 2012

by Sara B. Morgan, Esq.

Reform. A positive-sounding word connoting improvement and enhancement, Webster’s defines “reform” as “an amendment of what is defective, vicious, corrupt, or depraved; a removal or correction.” However, you can have too much of a good thing, and unfortunately, tort reform supporters don’t often realize the negative effect their efforts may have upon the lives of individuals who suffer from devastating, catastrophic injuries, until it is too late.

Take for example, the recent Delaware River incident where passengers of a small, touring duck boat were drown when a large barge literally ran over them. The actions and inactions of the duck boat crew, including stopping the boat mid-river for almost 12 minutes, failing to timely instruct the passengers to don life vests, and cell phone usage immediately preceding the crash, all constitute negligence which caused or contributed to the deaths and injuries of its passengers.

Enter the Limitation of Liability Act, codified at 46 U.S.C. 30503, enacted in 1851 to encourage competition between American shipping companies and foreign shipping companies. Many countries abroad, including in Europe, had similar laws in place which limit the liability of a ship owner for injuries to persons and property to the value of the ship and its cargo after it arrives back to port – as long as the owner of the vessel was not at fault for the accident.

But what is the value of a duck boat that’s been run over by a barge and dragged from the bottom of river? While no money could ever make the duck boat’s passengers and their families whole, it can certainly assist them in coping with those losses and otherwise treating those injuries. To limit any recovery in this matter to the value of the soggy, used-up duck boat is unconsciounable.

Similarly, California enacted the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, known as MICRA, in 1975 to combat concerns over the availability and rising price of medical malpractice insurance. This Act established a limitation, or cap, of $250,000 on the amount a person could recover for any pain, suffering, distress, anguish, and loss of quality of life in a medical malpractice case.

The theory was that MICRA would decrease the number of medical malpractice claims, as well as the costs of resolving those claims. It was further speculated that these savings would “trickle down” to consumers, resulting in lower or stabilized insurance coverage premiums and increased availability of medical services.

MICRA caps operate on half of all plaintiffs verdicts in California to reduce the award a jury determines necessary to compensate those plaintiffs for their losses. The end result was a reduction in costs – negligent health care professionals benefitted from a 30% reduction in liability. What is lacking is any evidence showing that patients benefitted from a similar reduction in medical malpractice. Even more disturbing, research has proven that the jury awards most likely to be capped under MICRA are those cases which resulted in death, in severe non-fatal injuries, and injuries to children younger than 1 year.

Clearly, there are inequities here, and unfortunately, reform itself can result in the type of defective, vicious, corrupt, or depraved practices which it was intended to eradicate.

The Howell Decision: Is it Worse for Plaintiffs than MICRA?

November 4, 2011

By Jean-Simon Serrano

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) was passed in 1975 and limits non-economic damages (pain, suffering and death of a loved one) in California medical malpractice cases to $250,000.00. Prior to December 1975, juries were free to weigh all evidence and award an amount of non-economic damages appropriate for the injury to the victim.

The $250,000.00 cap on non-economic damages has never been re-evaluated since its imposition in 1975 and, due to inflation, is now less than $70,000 in 1975 dollars. As if this wasn’t outrageous enough on its own, MICRA also served to alter the collateral source rule.

“Under the traditional collateral source rule, a jury, in calculating a plaintiff’s damages in a tort action, does not take into consideration benefits, such as medical insurance or disability payments, which the plaintiff has received from sources other than the defendant, i.e., collateral sources, to cover losses resulting from the injury. Cal. Civ. Code § 3333.1 [MICRA] alters this rule in medical malpractice cases. Under § 3333.1(a), a medical malpractice defendant is permitted to introduce evidence of such collateral source benefits received by or payable to the plaintiff; when a defendant chooses to introduce such evidence, the plaintiff may introduce evidence of the amounts he has paid, in insurance premiums, for example, to secure the benefits. Although § 3333.1(a), does not specify how the jury should use such evidence, the legislature apparently assumed that in most cases the jury would set plaintiff’s damages at a lower level because of its awareness of plaintiff’s net collateral source benefits. “ Fein v. Permanente Medical Group, (1985) 38 Cal. 3d 137, 164-165

Thus, MICRA served to both severely limit the non-economic damages recoverable by plaintiffs in medical malpractices cases and limit the amounts recovered by plaintiffs whom were responsible enough to have procured insurance to guard against losses. Fortunately, MICRA allows plaintiffs who had health insurance to recover the costs incurred in procuring such a benefit, in the form of amounts paid in insurance premiums.

Recently, the California Supreme Court has issued another blow to the collateral source rule and to responsible plaintiffs. In Howell v. Hamilton Meats and Provisions, Inc., (2011) 52 Cal. 4th 541, the Court held that a plaintiff could recover as damages for her past medical expenses no more than her medical providers had accepted as payment in full from plaintiff and her health insurer.

Unlike MICRA, which permits plaintiffs to introduce evidence regarding expenses incurred in procuring their insurance, plaintiffs in non-medical malpractice personal injury cases receive no such benefit. Thus, under Howell (supra), defendants receive the benefit of plaintiff’s thrift in being liable for greatly reduced medical expenses without having to reimburse plaintiffs for the (often substantial) costs of procuring such a benefit.

As it relates to the effect on the collateral source rule, the recent Howell (supra) ruling is potentially more damaging to plaintiffs than MICRA.

Under MICRA, a perpetrator of medical malpractice receives the benefit of lower medical damages if the victim had health insurance; however, he must reimburse the victim her costs of procuring such insurance.

Under Howell, one causing injuries to others receives the benefit of lower medical damages if the victim had health insurance and, as an added bonus, does not have to reimburse the victim of procuring such insurance.

Sadly, Howell is a win-win for those causing injuries to others in California.

We, at Heiting & Irwin specialize in personal injury cases and are on the cutting edge of personal injury law in California.  While this decision is upsetting, we are undeterred in making sure our clients are fully compensated for their injuries.

Hazardous Recreational Activities

June 20, 2011

by Dennis R. Stout

Imagine yourself on your day off, participating in your favorite recreational activity, on public property. Whether it’s mountain biking, kayaking, off-road motorcycling/four-wheeling, surfing, or water skiing, what is your recourse should you sustain an injury by participating in that activity?

Generally speaking, the Government Code of the State of California provides that neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable to 1) any person who participates in a hazardous recreational activity, including any person who assists the participant, or 2) any spectator who knew or reasonably should have known that the hazardous recreational activity created a substantial risk of injury to himself or herself, and who voluntarily participated in that activity. California Government Code, Section 831.7 defines the hazardous recreational activity as a recreational activity conducted on property of the public entity that creates a substantial, as distinguished from a minor, trivial, or insignificant risk of injury to a participant or a spectator. The Government Code also defines those hazardous recreational activities as the type of activities described herein, including but not limited to mountain bicycling, cross-country and downhill skiing, kayaking, off-road motorcycling and four-wheeling, surfing, water skiing, body contact sports, and other types of activities. “Body contact sports” is defined as those where it is reasonably foreseeable that there would be rough bodily contact with one or more of the participants.

The Government Code of the State of California generally places the risk of injury upon the participant in these described activities. There are some exceptions to the general rule that neither the public entity nor the public employee is liable for injury, with some of those exceptions including failure to warn of a known dangerous condition; charging fees for participation in the specific hazardous recreational activity; and recklessness or gross negligence by the public entity that is a substantial factor in causing the injury.

The Government Code of the State of California is a minefield to plaintiffs, requiring specific knowledge and skills by attorneys familiar with the California Tort Claims Act. The attorneys at Heiting and Irwin possess that familiarity and knowledge of the Government Code of the State of California, including the claims presentation requirements and immunities of the potentially liable public entity and public employees. If you have a claim for injury or damages, whether it be against a public entity or public employee, or any other injury claims, we at Heiting and Irwin offer free initial consultations and are interested and available to discuss your claim. Please contact our offices at 951-682-6400 for a free consultation.

California Supreme Court Finds Liability for Tractor-Trailer Parked Along Freeway

March 17, 2011

by Jean-Simon Serrano

On February 28, 2011, the California Supreme Court decided the case of Cabral v. Ralphs Grocery Co. (Docket No. S178799).  This is another case revolving around a deadly motor vehicle accident in which a tractor-trailer was involved.  See my previous article here

In Cabral, Plaintiff’s husband, the decedent, was driving his pickup truck home from work, when he suddenly veered off the freeway and collided, at high speed, with the rear of a stopped Ralph’s Tractor Trailer.  Mr. Cabral was killed instantly.  According to investigation, Mr. Cabral was not intoxicated at the time of the accident and experts opined that the accident occurred after he (a) fell asleep at the wheel; or (b) lost control due to an undiagnosed medical condition.  Just prior to the accident, the driver of the tractor trailer pulled over to the side of the freeway in order to have a snack.

The jury determined that the decedent was 90% at fault for the accident and apportioned 10% of the fault to the driver of the tractor trailer.  The trial court denied Ralphs’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and entered a judgment awarding Mrs. Cabral damages for the wrongful death of her husband.

Ralph’s appealed the Superior Court ruling and the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment on the jury verdict and denial of the employer’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.  Ralph’s successfully argued that it owed no duty to persons such as the decedent as it was not foreseeable that persons such as Mr. Cabral would veer off course and collide with a tractor trailer parked along a freeway. The plaintiff appealed this ruling and thus the matter was put before the California Supreme Court.

The California Supreme Court held that the employer (Ralph’s) owed a legal duty to avoid a collision between the decedent, who was found 90 percent at fault, and the employer’s stopped truck.  In so holding, the Supreme Court cited Civil Code, § 1714, subd. (a) which established a general duty of reasonable care for the safety of others.  The Court stated that there were no grounds in the current case to find an exception to this general duty of reasonable care.  The Court stated:

“That drivers may lose control of their vehicles and leave a freeway for the shoulder area, where they may collide with any obstacle placed there, is not categorically unforeseeable. Nor does public policy clearly demand that truck drivers be universally permitted, without the possibility of civil liability for a collision, to take nonemergency breaks alongside freeways in areas where regulations permit only emergency parking.  Were we to recognize the categorical exemption from the duty of ordinary care Ralphs seeks, no liability could be imposed even when a driver unjustifiably stops his or her vehicle alongside the freeway in particularly dangerous circumstances. For example, parking a tractor-trailer for the night immediately next to the freeway traffic lanes on the outside of a poorly lit downhill curve, merely in order to save the cost of a spot in a truck stop, could well be considered negligent. Yet the parking truck driver in that scenario would as a matter of law bear no responsibility for a collision if, as Ralphs contends, no duty exists to exercise reasonable care, in parking alongside a freeway, for the safety of motorists who may unintentionally leave the freeway.  We therefore decline to create a categorical rule exempting those parking alongside freeways from the duty of drivers to exercise ordinary care for others in their use of streets and highways.”

The court also held that substantial evidence supported a finding that if the tractor-trailer had not been stopped where it was, the other driver likely would have come to a stop without a fatal collision.

As a result, the court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal.

This is not too dissimilar from the Court of Appeal decision in Lawson v. Safeway Inc., (2010) 191 Cal. App. 4th 400, which essentially held that tractor-trailer drivers had a duty to not only park legally, but also, to park safely. 

We, at Heiting & Irwin, specialize in tractor-trailer accidents.  If you or anyone you know has been in an accident involving a tractor-trailer, please do not hesitate to contact our office at (951) 682-6400 or visit our website: www.heitingandirwin.com

ARE YOU RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR DOG?

February 8, 2011

By: Dennis R. Stout

Animal bites are commonplace in our society. In many instances, a person bitten by a dog has a right to recover damages from the animal’s owner or other responsible party.

California Civil Code Section 3342 states that the owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.

Under this California strict liability policy, the owner of the animal is generally responsible for any injuries caused by the dog, regardless of the owner’s actions. Someone other than the owner, such as a keeper or a landlord, is responsible only if he or she had previous knowledge of the dog’s vicious nature.

There may be certain exceptions to these general principles, ie adequate warning, provocation or assumption of risk, however under California’s dog bite statute, the owner of a dog is responsible for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog. Those damages include medical expenses, wage loss, property damages and pain and suffering.

For dog bites, or any other type of injury claims, Heiting & Irwin can prosecute or defend those claims. Our attorneys have exceptional qualifications and expertise to protect not only the injured party, but also the tortfeasor. Contact us with any type of injury claim whether plaintiff or defendant!

DEMAND EQUAL PROTECTION

December 22, 2010

By: Dennis R. Stout

Equal protection is a clever and timely catch phrase and legal issue in these times of gay rights and mandatory health care. The issue also arises in the purchase and maintenance of UM/UIM (uninsured and underinsured) motorist coverage in the State of California.

 Following up on the prior blog re: UM/UIM coverage, automobile liability insurance or proof of financial responsibility is required on any vehicle operated in the State of California. Minimum requirements are $15,000.00 for injury/death to one person; $30,000.00 for injury/death to more than one person; and $5,000.00 for damage to property. By purchasing the minimum coverage or any greater insurance coverage limits, the driver/owner is protecting the interest of others, should they sustained injury or damage. But what about equally protecting yourself?

Uninsured motorist/underinsured coverage is not mandated. If you are injured in an automobile accident involving an uninsured or underinsured driver, are you protected? You must have the proper coverage and the proper limits of coverage to equally protect yourself.

To purchase automobile liability insurance coverage only, a waiver is required of UM/UIM coverage. If you carry greater liability coverage than the minimum limits requirements in California (15/30/5) you definitely need UM/UIM coverage. With liability limits in larger amounts, to carry UM/UIM coverage in less than limits of $30,000.00 per person/ $60,000.00 per event, another waiver is required.

To make a long and complicated story short, drivers of vehicles in the State of California need to protect themselves equally by acquiring UM/UIM coverage in limits equal to the liability coverage limits they purchase to protect others. Waivers can be complicated in insurance purchases but, insurance claims, litigation for personal injuries and damages, and not having the proper insurance coverage and limits of coverage can be an even more complicated process.

Protect yourself with equal coverage and limits that you protect others! Check your automobile insurance policy(s) with your agent. All automobile liability issues, insurance claims, and other injury matters can be handled by competent legal counsel. Heiting & Irwin in Riverside, CA can and will handle all your insurance and injury claims to conclusion. Contact us at any time you are in need of assistance.

The Real Losers Under MICRA

August 19, 2010

By Sara B. Morgan

California enacted the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, known as MICRA, in 1975 to combat concerns over the availability and rising price of medical malpractice insurance. This Act established a limitation, or cap, of $250,000 on the amount a person could recover for any pain, suffering, distress, anguish, and loss of quality of life in a medical malpractice case.

The theory was that MICRA would decrease the number of medical malpractice claims, as well as the costs of resolving those claims. It was further speculated that these savings would “trickle down” to consumers, resulting in lower or stabilized insurance coverage premiums and increased availability of medical services.

No one argues that the publicized goal of medical malpractice caps was to save money, but the real question is, to save money for whom? Under MICRA’s system, the real winners are health care professionals – negligent health care professionals – whose damages are limited to just $250,000 regardless of the type of harm they cause their patients.

MICRA’s impact on Californians injured as a result of negligent health care professionals is widespread. In fact, MICRA caps operate on half of all plaintiffs verdicts in California to reduce the award a jury determines necessary to compensate those plaintiffs for their losses. The end result was a reduction in costs – negligent health care professionals benefitted from a 30% reduction in liability. What is lacking is any evidence showing that patients benefitted from a similar reduction in medical malpractice.

Even more disturbing, research has proven that the jury awards most likely to be capped under MICRA are those cases which resulted in death, in severe non-fatal injuries, and injuries to children younger than 1 year.

This is our justice system’s ultimate betrayal of those Californians most severely injured by negligent health care professionals. It is the responsibility of health care professionals to be accountable for their negligent actions, just as any individual, under our laws, is held accountable. For patients who have died or been severely injured, or who are very young, there is no voice and hence, no justice. Only the California voters can speak on their behalf, by reforming the medical malpractice caps in a manner that protects the voiceless and not the negligent.

Statutes of Limitations and Why You Shouldn’t “Wait and See”

August 4, 2010

by Jean-Simon Serrano

It’s a story I hear on an almost weekly basis.  “After the surgery, I knew something was wrong but Dr. X told me to ‘wait a year and see what happens.’”  From a legal standpoint, this is terrible advice when dealing with a potential medical malpractice claim in California.

What’s wrong with waiting a year?  The Statute of Limitations.

A statute of limitations is a law which places a time limit on pursuing a legal remedy in relation to wrongful conduct. After the expiration of the statutory period, unless a legal exception applies, the injured person loses the right to file a lawsuit seeking money damages or other relief.

Simply put, barring a particular exception, if you don’t file your lawsuit in time, you will be forever barred from bringing your action.

In California, medical malpractice claims are governed by Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.5.  It states that medical malpractice actions must be commenced within 1 year from the date of the injury, or one year from the date the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered the injury, whichever occurs first.  It also states that, absent a specific exception, “In no event shall the time for commencement of legal action exceed three years.”

There are three enumerated exceptions to the general rule.  These are:

1. Proof of fraud

2. Intentional concealment

3. The presence of a foreign body, which has no therapeutic or diagnostic purpose or effect, in the person of the injured person.  

Unless you meet one of these exceptions, or unless you are a minor, you essentially have one year to bring your action.

The periods of limitation for medical malpractice apply to minors six years of age and older. For medical malpractice actions involving minors below the age of six, the action must be filed within three years of the date of the injury or before the minor’s eighth birthday, whichever period is greater.

Lastly, if your claim is against a public entity, you are required to bring a public entity claim within six months.

With all of this in mind, hopefully, is it clear why it would be an extremely unwise decision to “wait a year and see what happens.”  Courts are very strict in enforcing statutes of limitations.  Even the most meritorious case could be summarily dismissed if not brought within the appropriate time period.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to medical malpractice, or suspects that they may have been the victim of malpractice DO NOT DELAY!  You should contact a medical malpractice attorney immediately to have your case evaluated.  Furthermore, because the evaluation of medical malpractice cases can take some time, you may find it increasingly difficult to find an attorney willing to take your case as the limitations period approaches.

Tide Turns Against Medical Malpractice Caps

July 27, 2010

by Sara B. Morgan

A Georgia trial judge recently struck down that state’s limits on the amount of pain and suffering damages a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice case. Fulton County State Court Judge Diane E. Bessen declared the caps violated Georgia’s State Constitution, specifically the provisions guaranteeing the right to a jury trial, separation of powers, and equal protection.

Currently, Georgia limits pain and suffering, known as noneconomic damages, to a maximum of $350,000 against doctors regardless of the injuries sustained by plaintiffs as a result of medical negligence. California, by comparison, limits those recoveries to a mere $250,000. Even where a jury determines the plaintiff is entitled to more than the limit, the judge is mandated by law to reduce that award. Judge Bessen found the caps to encroach upon the jury’s power to determine the amount of damages that would fairly compensate an injured person, who in turn is denied the opportunity for judicial review of the reduction.

Most importantly, Judge Bessen declared it a “complete contradiction to state that the overall quality of healthcare would be improved by shielding negligent health care providers from liability,” citing studies that correlate the existence of these damage limits with an increase in insurance rates.

Legal authorities in California are hopefully following this Georgia case closely, since California is another state where people injured by medical negligence have their damages reduced regardless of the amount a jury determines is appropriate compensation. California’s cap specifically applies to compensation for pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, and disfigurement, and limits recovery to only $250,000, even where someone has died.

The caps in California have been declared constitutional, based on the concept that high medical malpractice premiums adversely affect the quality of medical services provided to residents of the state. However, the effectiveness of the caps as a measure to improve the quality of medical services is highly debated, and rather unlikely. First, in light of the sweeping health care reform efforts taking place on the national scale, it can hardly be argued that California’s caps have resulted in the improvement of medical services. Secondly, the cap amount, set back in 1975, has long since surpassed its expiration date. And yet, 35 years later, Californians injured by negligent medical providers are subjected to the same caps enacted when Gerald Ford was President!

We can only hope that the developments in Georgia law serve as a catalyst to review the limits in California and to determine the best method available to improve the quality of care and protection afforded California residents. The time has come to stop protecting negligent medical providers, and start protecting Californians.