This February, a Los Angeles jury will be asked to decide whether doctors are responsible for actor John Ritter' death nearly five years ago. On September 11, 2003, Ritter died when an emergency room doctor misdiagnosed the 54-year-old' chest pain for a heart attack, rather than a torn blood vessel (or aortic dissection). Ritter left behind his wife, actor Amy Yasbeck, and four children. The family requests damages in excess of $67 million based largely on Ritter' future earning capacity before his death.
Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages in California, Illinois and Other States
"Non-economic" damages for victims of medical malpractice in California are limited to $250,000. Thus, even when death results, families can receive no more than $250,000 in pain and suffering for their loss. However, there is no cap on "economic damages," which include future wages losses like those alleged in the Ritter case. Other states have passed similar caps, including Illinois, whose Supreme Court will soon decide the constitutionality of its cap on medical malpractice damages.
Medical Malpractice Suits Available for Wealthiest American' Like Ritter Family
As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Ritter had a seven year contract with Touchstone Studios when he died and was expected to earn up to $14.7 million if his show remained on the air every year. However, a Touchstone executive stated in a deposition they had begun renegotiating a new contract with Ritter where he could have earned up $67 million.
What Malpractice Attorney Would Have Taken Ritter Case If They Were Poor?
Unlike an automobile accident or other basic personal injury case, medical malpractice cases are often extremely expensive. In malpractice cases involving multiple defendants and multiple experts, the expenses can easily exceed $100,000. Combine that figure with the likelihood of losing at trial (where most verdicts are for the doctor), many victims of medical malpractice cannot get an attorney to take their case. The idea of settling for "nuisance value" is a misnomer in these cases, as malpractice carriers will often raise the doctor' insurance premiums if he or she "consents to settlement."
If John Ritter was not an actor making millions but a cashier making minimum wage, what attorney would have taken this case? What if Ritter was retired or disabled? There would be no wage loss. Would this case have even been filed? As the Ritter case illustrates, caps on damages do not apply equally. They impact the poor far more than the wealthy.