Comstock's magazine 0219 - February 2019 - Page 51

may be the third-leading cause of death nationally, killing more than 251,000 people a year. If that number is accu- rate, errors kill 56 percent more people than all accidents combined, three times as many people as diabetes, and five times as many as suicide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study not- ed that most mistakes aren’t due to bad-apple doctors but bad systems — lack of consistency in hospital protocols or poorly coordinated care, for example. Plaintiffs’ lawyers like Cutter say the losers are patients and their families who will never be compensated because of the cap. “If you’re over 60 and you lost a retired spouse to medical neg- ligence, that’s a case that’s very hard to pursue,” he says. The 1975 ceiling won’t change anytime soon: In 2014, voters decisively rejected a referendum that would have increased it to more than $1 million to keep up with infla- tion — possibly because it included a measure mandating drug testing for doctors. By the end, the “no” side enjoyed a 7-1 advantage in advertising spending, and every major newspaper in California came out against it. “Convention- al wisdom is [the cap] has had a positive effect on keeping malpractice premiums under control in California,” Wil- ke Fleury’s Lutterman says of the law. “I think it’s here to stay.” That means there’s not much incentive for up-and- coming plaintiffs’ attorneys to focus on malpractice law. “I’ve been studying and working in medical issues for 44 years, and it takes a long time to get up to speed and learn the medicine,” says Callaham. Given the economics of malpractice cases, he says, “young lawyers and young law firms, they can’t do it and they don’t want to do it.” n Steven Yoder writes about business, real estate and crim- inal justice. His work has appeared in The Fiscal Times, Salon, The American Prospect and elsewhere. On Twitter @syodertweet and at February 2019 | 51