Over the last five budget years, California has seen nearly $1 billion in cumulative budget cuts to the courts of California.  The courts are now severely crippled.  The San Diego Superior Court is dealing with $33 million in budget cuts enacted by the State Legislature.  Those cuts have resulted in the reductions of more than 170 court positions and the closing of 20 courtrooms.

Deep reduction of funding all across the state has resulted in courthouse closures, reduced numbers of courtrooms, drastically cut hours and services, large numbers of lay-offs of staff, long lines and higher fees.

Reduction in court personnel is causing a dramatic shift of caseloads onto already overburdened judges and clerks.  Civil departments are sharing calendar clerks, and civil judges are handling unthinkable numbers of cases, often into the high hundreds to over a thousand, without adequate support.  Judges and staff are soldiering forward, but things have been really tough for them.   Family law and probate courts are also severely impacted.

As of November 5, 2012, the San Diego Superior Court has not been supplying court reporters for civil matters.  Parties are responsible for hiring and paying for their own reporters for all proceedings, including trials.  If they do not do so, there is no record of the proceedings.

Hearing dates are becoming more difficult to obtain.  We are also now seeing delays in processing of paperwork, and on one occasion, the total loss of court-filed papers which were eventually found, with great apologies from the court.  The case involved an elderly disabled man who could ill afford a delay in compensation in his matter, which had already settled and was merely waiting approval.

The implications these cuts have on litigants is quite serious.  We are working hard to press our matters forward to trial despite the constraints.  If you have any questions about the impact of the budget crisis on your pending matter with us, please give us a call.

If you would like to learn more, here are three recent articles from the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, and the San Diego Union Tribune:





As we approach Mother’s Day, we are reflecting on the hardworking mothers of special needs children we have represented.  It’s a difficult, often lonely job raising a child with developmental disabilities.  We have an ongoing commitment to making a difference in the lives of these mothers and their families.  Our advocacy on behalf of special needs children and their parents has been continuous over the last couple of decades.

We receive many inquiries about the unfortunate demise of babies before or at term. More than one million babies die on the day they are born every year worldwide, according to a report from Save the Children, a non-profit with the mission to improve the lives of kids in need around the world.  A recent article in USA Today discusses some very simple products that can save newborns.  http://m.usatoday.com/article/news/2137163

More frequently, however, we get calls about infants relating to injuries suffered during the birth process, and we see children diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, Erb’s Palsy and other neurological conditions.  Changes in the health care system have led to an increase in the number of deliveries handled by doctors and nurses without adequate training and experience.  As we represent children and mothers who have been injured through negligence, we also seek to foster change that will ensure similar mistakes are not made again.

Due to the length of our experience in this area, we also link our clients with experts, resources, technology, research and developments that may aid in therapy and adaptive assistance for the children, as well as sources of aid for the parents, such as respite care.

New developments in treatment and therapies are assisting some of these children.  As an example, we note some increase in function found in babies who have been through hypothermia, or “cooling” protocol, immediately after birth.  This therapeutic hypothermia is a medical treatment that lowers the baby’s body temperature in order to help reduce the severity of damage to tissue after the brain has been deprived of oxygen and the body of blood flow.  The children we are encountering who have had access to this treatment do seem to fare better than those without it.

Among the extraordinary people we have had the privilege to represent, we look this week to the loving mothers of these beautiful children, and wish them peace, safety and health.

A California woman has died after her nurse refused to perform CPR, the Los Angeles Times reports this morning.  The nurse insists she was simply following policy of the Glenwood Gardens senior living facility in Bakersfield, where she cared for patients.

The woman is reported to be 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless. She did not have a do-not-resuscitate order. Her nurse called 911 when Ms. Bayless went unconscious and began having difficulty breathing during a meal.  911 dispatcher Tracey Halvorson pleaded with the nurse to perform CPR, but she repeatedly refused.  The nurse cited a hospital policy to call 911 in the event of a medical emergency and wait until medical personnel arrives.  The nurse also refused to hand the telephone to someone else in the dining area, for the dispatcher to talk them through CPR.

One can only imagine why a policy like this would exist.  Particularly in a residential care facility where patients are under the control of, and isolated by the facility and its staff.  Fear of liability?  Is that what causes one human being to refuse life-saving help to another?  If avoidance of liability was the intent, I believe Glenwood Gardens has made a critical error.  Residential and senior care policies like this need to be exposed and changed.

The full LA Times story is here.

A study compiled by the Commonwealth Fund reports that the U.S. Government could save $2 trillion in healthcare spending over the next decade, if it takes measures to pin spending to economic growth.

Maybe such a course could help resolve this disconnect, as reported by the Huffington Post:

The United States has the world’s most expensive healthcare  system, which government forecasters say will cost more than  $9,200 this year for every man, woman and child. Spending growth  has slowed in recent years, but costs continue to outpace  inflation and restrain overall economic growth.

Despite the nation’s massive healthcare bill, research shows  that Americans die earlier and experience higher rates of  disease than people in other countries – regardless of age,  education, income, healthy behaviors or whether they have health  insurance.

See the full story here.

CBS News reports that a study released today by The Leapfrog Group grades 2,618 hospitals in 49 states on safety.  Massachusetts and Maine top the list with the highest percentages of “A” grade hospitals (83 and 80 percent).  New Mexico reportedly places last with only 7 percent “A” hospitals.

The study recognizes an imminent need for focus on hospital safety.  A statement released by The Leapfrog Group notes that “[a]t least 180,000 people are killed every year from errors, accidents, injuries, and infections in American hospitals.”

The study is not without its surprises and controversy.  CBS reports that the renowned Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center is one of only 25 hospitals that received an F grade.  CBS reports that the hospital disputes the grade and the fairness of the scoring system, and claims one patient death in 2010 pushed its grade down from a C to an F.  The Leapfrog Group’s president and CEO, Leah Binder, is reported to stand behind the scoring system and UCLA’s grade.

If you’re curious how your hospital scored, there’s an app for that:  The study’s data can be accessed on your mobile device or over the web at www.hospitalsafetyscore.org.  A link to download the app (free) is available on the website.

On August 23, 2012, the California Supreme Court overturned an 80-year-old rule that worked to keep victims from recovering full compensation for their injuries.  The so-called “release rule” released defendants in multi-defendant lawsuits from having to pay jury verdicts, if a court ruled a prior settlement with any one defendant was not made in “good faith,” i.e., was too low.

Aidan’s Injury

Leung v. Verdugo Hills Hospital concerned a newborn, Aidan, who developed Kernicterus — a form of brain damage caused by excessive jaundice — while under the care of Verdugo Hills Hospital and his pediatrician.  The hospital downplayed known risks about the condition, providing outdated materials and advice to the parents.  The doctor allegedly ignored risk factors and warning signs of the disease.  As a result, a treatable disease progression resulted in profound, lifelong disability.

Because of the condition, Aidan, now 9 years old, has normal intelligence but no muscle control.  According to the child’s attorney, quoted in the San Diego Daily Transcript (SDDT):  “He can’t walk, he can’t talk, he can’t pick up a pencil, throw a ball.”   “It was 100 percent preventable.”

Unjust Result

Aidan’s suit was settled with the pediatrician for $1 million, the limits of his malpractice insurance policy, prior to trial.  A settlement demand of $2.1 million to the hospital was rejected.  At trial, a jury found the hospital 40% liable for Aidan’s injuries, and total economic damages of approximately $15 million (medical costs, not pain and suffering).  But the court found that the settlement with the pediatrician was too low — in “bad faith” — given the pediatrician’s likely large proportionate liability for Aidan’s damages.

Under the release rule, the hospital would have been released from paying any share at all of Aidan’s economic damages because of the court’s finding.  The rule provided that if a prior settlement with any defendant was held in “bad faith” — not in line with the defendant’s predicted proportionate liability — the other defendants were released entirely from paying any damages shared with that defendant.  This essentially erased the jury’s verdict and left the injured plaintiff with no compensation for his medical costs, save for the previous settlement amount.

“Release Rule” Overturned

Overturning eight decades of common law precedent, the state Supreme Court rejected the release rule in Leung.  The court refused to release the hospital from paying any portion of Aidan’s $15 million in medical costs simply because the doctor had agreed to a favorable settlement before trial.  The court also rejected the hospital’s alternative proposal that it should only be held responsible for a proportionate share of Aidan’s damages — 40% of the $15 million.  Instead, the court restored the pro-consumer and pro-victim intent of California’s tradition of joint and several liability.

Because the hospital rejected the pre-trial settlement demand of $2.1 million, it became responsible for paying the full damage amount of $15 million, minus the $1 million paid by the doctor.  If the hospital wishes to pursue the doctor for reimbursement of his share of the damages, it may now do so in a separate lawsuit.  But that burden is not saddled upon the injured plaintiff.

“It’s a very important decision in terms of abolishing an outdated and … unjust rule,” commented Loyola Law School professor John T. Nockleby, as reported by SDDT.  This decision should encourage settlements and get money for medical care in the hands of the injured more quickly.  It takes the power out of an archaic procedural rule and puts it back in the hands of juries.  Leung is a long-awaited victory for California patients and consumers.

For more information, or if you or a loved one have been injured in California, please contact the experienced lawyers at Mulligan & Banham.  Our telephone number is 619-238-8700.

On July 31, 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages (pain and suffering) in medical malpractice lawsuits.  The court held that the cap on damages violated a person’s constitutional right to trial by jury under the state constitution.  The complete text of the opinion can be found here.

Missouri now joins six other states that have held damage caps in medical malpractice actions unconstitutionally take a victim’s compensation of the hands of the jury.  Other states include Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, New Hampshire, Oregon and Washington.  California and six other states have challenges pending.  See an updated list here.

For more information, or if you or a loved one have been injured in California, please contact the experienced lawyers at Mulligan & Banham.  Our telephone number is 619-238-8700.