Press ConferenceSince 1975 the value of everything has gone up, except the value of my son’s life under California law.

Last week my son, Steven and I went to Sacramento to say “38 years is too late.” We announced a ballot initiative to create stronger patient safety laws and adjust this nearly 38 year-old law. You can join our efforts by reading our story and others of patients like us at the new site “38 is too late” and liking our Facebook page.

In California, no matter how badly a child is hurt, or even if they are killed by gross medical negligence, the value of their life is only $250,000, an amount set by the Legislature nearly 38 years ago. That’s just not right.

When my son Steven was a toddler, he fell on a stick while hiking near his grandmother’s cabin in the mountains. The hospital pumped Steven up with steroids and sent him away with a growing brain abscess, although we had asked for a CAT scan because we knew Steven was not well. The next day, he came back to the hospital comatose. Medical experts later concluded that had he received the $800 CAT scan, he almost certainly would have been successfully treated.

Today, at 23 years old, Steven is blind and has cerebral palsy. Even though a jury heard our case and said Steven should receive $7.1 million for the horrible losses he will suffer for the rest of his life, the judge reduced the amount to $250,000 under California’s one size fits all cap.

Kathy and Steven OlsenThe jurors only found out that their verdict had been reduced by reading about it in the newspaper. They expressed their outrage, but the Legislature has not heard them, or patients like me. The cap has not been adjusted for almost 38 years, since Governor Brown signed the law in his first administration.

The ballot measure Consumer Watchdog and The Troy and Alana Pack Foundation announced in the Capitol last week would lift the cap so juries can make their own decisions on a case by case basis. The measure also reforms the state’s Medical Board and creates greater disclosure about prescription drug overdoses and the role of dangerous doctors.

The “38 Is Too Late” group will go to the ballot this fall if the Legislature doesn’t act. I hope you will join me in sending a message to lawmakers that they should act and then join our community online on our website and on Facebook.

You can read more about this historic moment from an article in last week’s Los Angeles Times.
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Posted by Kathy Olsen, Board Member of Consumer Watchdog. Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and Twitter.