In a recent post, we wrote about the controversial case of a young girl from California who suffered severe brain damage during a routine tonsillectomy. The girl was declared brain dead by doctors shortly after the complications from the surgery manifest themselves. After that, the family began a long fight over whether the girl is legally dead or whether she could be transferred to another medical facility to receive treatment to save her life. An agreement was made late last week and the girl was moved to a nearby nursing home.
One element here that has so far missed coverage is the fact that if the teenager is considered to be alive and her injuries are the result of hospital malpractice, the hospital will be liable for her medical expenses for the rest of her life. For a patient needing around-the-clock care and the use of advanced technology, that amount could reach into the tens of millions. On the other hand, if the patient has passed away the damages for the wrongful death case would fall under California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which allows for a maximum of $250,000 for pain and suffering damages, so the family would recover only that amount and the medical expenses from the injury.
The important thing to remember in a case like this is that while there are some significant issues surrounding money for the hospital and the family, the core of the problem is that a young, healthy teenager went into the hospital for a routine surgery and left on a ventilator. Even if she does recover some brain activity, the teen has been irreparably harmed by a mistake or error still unknown to the public. Of course as humans, mistakes will always happen, but in the context of medical care, professionals must take extra steps to guard against preventable injuries.
Source: The Sacramento Bee, “Dan Morain: Jahi McMath case is rife with tragedy and politics,” Dan Morain, Jan. 8, 2013