ELK GROVE, CA (CNN) — An Elk Grove woman says a hospital mistake killed her mother, yet no attorney is willing to take the case. She called Kurtis to investigate. It may be tied to a California law that has not been updated for more than 40 years.
Our story starts with the paramedics in the living room, after her daughter called 911. Short of breath, Gian Gill was awake and alert, answering questions for the paramedics.
A home camera captured the paramedics wheeling her out, and within hours, the 74-year-old grandmother was dead.
Daughter Pali thinks the loving matriarch of their family would still be here if the emergency room staff listened. Pali says the nurse kept calling her mom a cancer patient, but her mom didn’t have cancer.
“You know those dreams, you’re in a panic and you’re trying to get someone to listen and no one’s listening?” Pali Gill said.
The nurse administered Fentanyl, which the CDC calls a pain reliever 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, approved to treat severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. Pali says her mom’s vitals dropped.
“She’s like ‘I’m going to die. I’m going to die.’ I’ve never heard her say things like that,” Pali said
Pali hugged her mom tight and says she went limp and died.
“I have no doubt. I know that Fentanyl killed her,” Pali said.
The state Department of Public Health confirms her mom was identified in the medical record as having a history of cancer. Pali wants to hold the medical professionals accountable but has hit a snag, saying nobody will take her mom’s case.
Consumer attorney Stuart Talley says even a slam dunk medical malpractice case is complicated and expensive to fight.
“They’re just not economical for the attorneys,” Talley said. “You have to have experts that are very, very, expensive.”
A law passed back in 1975 caps payouts, limiting damages to $250,000 for non-economic losses, including things like pain and suffering, and emotional anguish.
You can sue for economic damages such as the amount of money the patient would have made to support their family, but Gian was 74 and did not work.
“So if you’re old and retired, you don’t get justice. But if you’re young and affluent, you do,” Talley said.
With inflation, $250,000 in 1975 is worth $1.2 million today, so why haven’t legislators raised the cap? The doctors and insurance lobbies have successfully fought to keep it.
The issue went before voters in 2014, but they rejected raising the cap after ads ran, saying the cost of healthcare would rise.
One ad said, “It will cost your family $1,000 more a year in health care cost.”
A coalition representing medical professionals declined our request for an interview, but defended the cap, saying it “provides stability and offers an assurance that Californians will continue having access to doctors, nurses, hospitals, and community clinics. [Adding changes] would leave them with increased costs and decreased access to health care providers.”
Pali says she doesn’t want to profit off her mom’s death but thinks accountability can save lives.
“What my mom went through that day is worth some kind of fight, because I don’t think anyone else should ever go through that,” Pali said.
She, herself, has filed a lawsuit but does not have an attorney. A consumer group and some attorneys are now gathering signatures. They want this to go before voters again next November, to raise the malpractice cap to $1.2 million.
The medical industry insists the current cap prevents frivolous lawsuits that drive up the cost of health care.