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Arizona Couple Wins $16.5 Million in Medical Malpractice Suit Against California Neurosurgeon


An Arizona couple recently won $16.5 million in a medical malpractice case against a Southern California neurosurgeon who was found negligent in his treatment of Trent Hughes, a man who was injured while off-roading in 2003. Specifically, Hughes suffered a fractured spine and was airlifted to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, California, where Doctor Christopher Pham was on call. The Hughes’ attorneys argued that Dr. Pham was required to report to the hospital within 20 minutes of the phone call. Unfortunately, Dr. Pham did not attend to Hughes until the next day and surgery was delayed for two days after the injury occurred. By that time, the damage was already done and Hughes was ultimately left a paraplegic.

Prior to his catastrophic injury and poor treatment, Hughes was an owner of a Phoenix, Arizona air-conditioning company. Thus, Hughes and his wife sued for past and future lost earnings, as well as medical costs, and pain and suffering. They also maintain that they “never received an adequate explanation of where (Pham) was and why he didn’t come, though he did maintain he was present.” Moreover, the Hughes’ attorneys also argued that Dr. Pham attempted to cover his tracks by planting documents that made it appear as if he was present at the hospital when, in fact, he was not.

Despite the couple’s multi-million dollar verdict, one of the Hughes’ attorneys noted that the award would be reduced to $500,000 due to California law limiting the amounts awarded in medical malpractice suits.


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  1. Jim O'Hare AIC AIS VP med mal claims says:
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    REduced to
    $500k in total or just for the pain and suffering aspect of the case ? seems that loss of earnings and medical care would be separate causes of action. Please clarify

  2. Jim O'Hare AIC AIS VP med mal claims says:
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    Damage Caps

    California places a cap on non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases. Cal. Civ. Code § 3333.2 (West 1997). Non-economic damages, defined as compensation for pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, and other non-pecuniary injury, are limited to $250,000. Id. The cap applies whether the case is for injury or death, and it allows only one $250,000 recovery in a wrongful death case. Yates v. Pollock, 194 Cal. App. 3d 195, 239 Cal. Rptr. 383 (1987). There is authority, however, for allowing separate caps for the patient and a spouse claiming loss of consortium. Atkins v. Strayhorn, 223 Cal. App. 3d 1380, 273 Cal. Rptr. 231 (1990). The cap on non-economic damages has been held to be constitutional. Fein v. Permanente Medical Group, 38 Cal. 3d 137, 695 P.2d 665, 211 Cal. Rptr. 368 (1985) (also upholding the modification of the collateral source rule).