A Paso Robles family is suing a local doctor after they say surgery on their loved one went fatally wrong.
Sadly, they are not alone.
A study by Johns Hopkins University in 2016 showed more than 250,000 people in the U.S. die every year because of medical mistakes, making it the third leading cause of death. While this number is debated in the medical world, a California statute still makes it hard to file a lawsuit against a doctor, resulting in a just a handful of cases selected by attorneys to make their way through the local court system.
One of those cases is Michael Picard’s.
“I lost my wife, my best friend,” said Picard.
Picard’s wife, Season, went in for a partial hysterectomy in December of 2017. The 43-year-old mom of three died a little more than a month later. “Apparently she had a bad infection that wasn’t caught and she passed away in her sleep,” he said.
Picard’s attorney, Nathaniel Leeds, said Season’s doctor found an infection and grapefruit sized clot during a follow-up visit and sent her home, instead of to a hospital. “Had he done so, Season would be here today. He did not,” Leeds said.
Picard’s case is just one of seven Leeds’ firm took last year of the 4,000 that came through his office. He only took it because Season, who was a nurse, was the primary breadwinner.
“If Season Picard had just been a mother, the economics of the case would not have worked,” said Leeds.
He blamed the “Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act,” or MICRA. It was enacted in California in 1975 to lower medical malpractice lawsuits. It caps non-economic damages, known as pain and suffering, at $250,000. There is no cap to recover economic damages.
Since Season was employed, Michael has a case to recover her lost wages.
“If a child is hurt, they have no wage loss. If an old person is hurt, they have no wage loss,” and no case, added Leeds because the $250,000 cap often won’t cover fees to litigate these costly cases.
Supporters have argued the cap has worked to bring down lawsuits and bring doctors back to California.
“There were more and more lawsuits and they were getting more expensive to resolve,” said Mark Connely, a San Luis Obispo-based attorney who has been representing physicians for the past 34 years.
Connely said the high awards by juries in the ’70s made it near impossible for doctors to get insured, running them and their insurers out of state. He said the cost to insure a doctor can mean the difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in a state with no cap versus tens of thousands of dollars in a state with caps.
The statute is currently being appealed in Los Angeles.
“There’s no necessary reason why it wouldn’t return to the problem in 1975 if we go back to the circumstances that existed in 1975,” Connely said.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have appealed the statute since the ’90s and historically failed.
Other states have similar MICRA laws, but either adjust for inflation or the caps are set at higher amounts.
As for Michael Picard, he understands the debate, “I don’t think society should be as sue happy as it is, but in my case, I don’t have a choice.”
Season’s doctor did not return our calls for comment. KSBY is not naming the doctor at this time because the case has not yet been filed in court.