Two years ago last week, Olivia Cull, 17, was taken off life support. The standout student — who planned to study classics at Smith College — had slipped into a coma during a routine, outpatient procedure at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA in Westwood.
The story of her death was presented to Congress a few days ago, among cases cited by patient advocates pushing to lift the caps on damages for medical malpractice lawsuits.
As lawmakers search for ways to trim healthcare costs, debate continues over the country's medical malpractice laws. Physician groups say caps limit frivolous lawsuits that can drive good doctors out of business. But patients and their families argue that limits on payouts diminish accountability, making it hard to find lawyers to take cases and force full disclosure from doctors.
"It's confusing," Joy Cull said. "I could imagine this happening over and over again because families don't have the resources to find out how their loved one passed away. We had to claw our way through the system."
To get more information, the Culls decided to sue the hospital. But like others, they had trouble finding a lawyer willing to take the case. Given the state cap on damages, they said, many lawyers did not consider their case worth pursuing.
Although doctors groups complain of frivolous malpractice lawsuits, the number of malpractice claims has actually decreased in recent years as families have had difficulty pursuing claims, Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, a New York-based advocacy group, told Congress at a hearing Thursday, the second anniversary of Olivia's death.
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