Has She Had Menopause Yet?

“Has she had menopause yet?”  This tell-tale question would be the main indicator leading the lawyers to not pick up the case of Ruth’s death.

In a March 26, 2015 LA Times report, a young plaintiff named Anna Rahm won $28 million compensation against Kaiser Permanente for a medical error doctors committed.  At issue was the scheduling of an MRI test four months after it was determined she should have one, a delay which then caused irreparable harm.  The plaintiff lived, but she now lives with an amputated leg, and part of the pelvis and spine gone. (A brief story of what happened in the Anna Rahm case)

The same issue was in the case of Ruth, where an endoscopy was scheduled for two months after it was determined she should have one, an appointment Ruth didn’t keep for one simple reason– she died before that.  (I won’t go into our efforts to get the test moved up– there is a story here not only about Ruth but about the numerous tests nationwide that are not scheduled appropriately and the powerlessness of patients to get their own tests done in a timely way.  There really is no excuse for tests delayed by months, or even weeks.  But for today I will just go over the legal issues of the Anna Rahm case.)  The difference between the Anna Rahm case and Ruth’s is that Ruth died before the tests actually took place, whereas Ms. Rahm lived, albeit irreparably harmed for the rest of her life because she wasn’t diagnosed in time.

I’ve sat in a number of the offices of medical malpractice lawyers.  There were some that operated out of posh high rises, so one can clearly tell they were getting rich from medical malpractice cases (those offices, by the way, very quickly didn’t want to consider my case).  In those places, they have testimonials on their website and promotional material of cases they took and won.  Just about all related to young people in their 20’s and under.  And therein is the catch with medical malpractice cases.

As I wrote in a previous post, the cap in medical malpractice cases in California is $250,000, a figure which makes it financially difficult for honest lawyers to represent those who were hurt.  But there is one way to overcome that cap and get many millions of dollars awarded. And that way is where money hungry lawyers head toward.  The factors are represented in the Anna Rahm case.

To get past the $250,000 cap in California, there are two things that must be shown in order to get additional monetary compensation for the errors:

1. Psychological and Mental Suffering.  One has to show that one’s life was severely affected for the worse in one’s physical and psychological well-being.  In Anna Rahm’s case, she lived, but now she lives without a leg and with part of her pelvis and spine gone.  Being that way causes a duress that didn’t need to be there had the doctors done their due diligence. However, in Ruth’s case, she died– so the psychological and mental suffering didn’t apply.  (I just have to cringe at the irony in this.)

2.  Loss of Income.  Another calculation that can be applied is loss of income.  Anna Rahm was 16 when the tragedy occurred.  Loss of income as a result of the error can be calculated, and that amount is huge, because her whole life was ahead of her.  Assuming she would have retired at 65, that is decades worth of lost income.  That can be parlayed into the monetary award calculations.  And now you know why many medical error cases that are taken up pertain to children or young adults.

That second factor points to what the lawyers already know: the younger the person, the better the payout.  Which is why you hardly see medical error cases against doctors/hospitals for errors made to elder people. Although probably unintended when the law was first written, it nonetheless presents a clear ageism in who will get their errors addressed in court. This is another example of the inaneness of how cases are treated.

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Of course, in this day and age. one can’t present an age bias when discussing cases, especially in a lawyer’s office.  The lawyer couldn’t ask, “How old was she” for that would clearly show that they were looking at age as a basis on whether to take the case or not.  Instead they offered what was probably a legally safe question, but to me more morally offensive due to the context: “Has she had menopause yet?” I felt the offense then when it was spoken, and I feel it now as I recount the story.

So Anna Rahm and Ruth had the same error made to them.  One got a $28 million judgment against Kaiser Permanente and the other didn’t even go to court.  The difference was based on one question: “Has she had menopause yet?”

 

 

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