Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Doctor Gets No Offset Against MICRA-Capped Award—S.C.
Decision Applies Where Nonsettling Defendant Fails to Show Comparative Fault on Part of Settling Defendants
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A jury’s award of $1.3 million in noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice action, cut by the court to $250,000 to conform to the cap under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (“MICRA”), cannot be further pared to reflect the amount of a pre-trial settlement with other defendants attributable to noneconomic losses, the state high court held yesterday.
The opinion reverses a Sept. 23, 2013 unpublished decision by Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal which slashed the award of noneconomic damages in favor of plaintiff Hamid Rashidi to $16,655. Agreeing with the trial judge, Richard Fruin of the Los Angeles Superior Court, and the California Supreme Court unanimously held that the MICRA cap, contained in Civil Code §3333.2, does not contemplate such an offset where comparative fault of the defendants had not been established.
Rashidi’s action was against Dr. Franklin Mosher, who performed surgery on him; Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where the operation took place; and Biosphere Medical, Inc., which manufactured particles used to block blood vessels. The particles, used in an effort to stop Rashidi’s nose bleeds, resulted in his loss of sight in one eye.
The plaintiff settled with Biosphere Medical for $2 million and with the hospital for $350,000. Fruin determined the settlements to be in good faith.
There was no specification as to how much of each sum related to economic damages—which are not capped—and much related to noneconomic damages, which are capped as to health care providers which includes the hospital.
At the trial of the action against Mosher, there was no determination as to the relative fault of the three defendants.
Fruin noted that under Civil Code §1431.2, each healthcare provider would ordinarily pay its share of the noneconomic damages, but reasoned that since Mosher filed to establish fault on the part of the other defendants, he was liable for the entire $250,000 award. (The judgment against him for economic damages was not in issue.)
Agreeing with Fruin, Justice Carol Corrigan said in yesterday’s opinion:
“Neither the parties nor amici curiae direct us to anything in the legislative history of section 3333.2 that indicates an intent to include settlement recoveries in the cap on noneconomic damages. To the contrary, we have noted that the Legislature had jury awards in mind when it enacted the cap, and that only a collateral impact on settlements was contemplated.”
She pointed out:
“Had Moser established any degree of fault on his codefendants’ part at trial, he would have been entitled to a proportionate reduction in the capped award of noneconomic damages. The Court of Appeal erred, however, in allowing Moser a setoff against damages for which he alone was responsible.”
The case is Rashidi v. Moser, 2014 S.O.S. 5656.
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