Cedars-Sinai doesn't owe millions in prejudgment interest in $5.5M medical malpractice case, Cal. court rules

By Charmaine Little | Jan 10, 2019

LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – Because of a lack of notice and information in an offer, the California 2nd District Court of Appeal, Division Two affirmed a lower court’s ruling that denied a woman’s motion for prejudgment interest in her lawsuit against Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

"We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the plaintiff’s 998 offer was not made in good faith. We accordingly affirm the order denying plaintiff prejudgment interest," the Jan. 3 ruling stated.

Judge Brian M. Hoffstadt authored the opinion and Acting Presiding Judge Judith Ashmann-Gerst and Judge Victoria M. Chavez concurred.

While plaintiff Dionne Licudine was awarded $1 million in her malpractice lawsuit against the hospital, both sides moved for a new trial on damages. She had sued over allegations that a surgeon nicked a vein during a gallbladder removal in 2012 and caused internal bleeding, which led to another surgery and an abdomen condition.

Judge Brian M. Hoffstadt   California Courts

In the retrial, the opinion states Licudine was awarded $7.6 million for economic and noneconomic damages before the trial court reduced it to $5.5 million because of a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages.

Licudine later filed for $2.3 million in prejudgment interest from the date of her 998 offer to the hospital. Cedars filed a motion to strike, stating the 998 offer was irrelevant since Licudine "made it so early in the proceedings that [Cedars] did not have a fair opportunity to intelligently evaluate it," the opinion states.

The trial court agreed and denied Licudine’s request; she appealed.

Before trial, in 2013 Licudine sent Cedars an offer to compromise via section 998. She offered to allow judgment against Cedars for $249,999.99, plus legal costs. The issue is that she sent the offer just five days after Cedars filed its answer to the lawsuit. Cedars denied the offer, noting that it was “too soon for it to make any determination as to whether plaintiff’s [998 offer] was reasonable” since the hospital yet to investigate the lawsuit to begin with, according the opinion. The offer then expired and Cedars never accepted it.

“Cedars had very little information available to it on the issues of liability and the amount of damages prior to the date plaintiff’s 998 expired,” the Appeals Court said. “Plaintiff’s three-page complaint was ‘bare bones,’ as it listed no specifics as to the injuries she suffered or the amount of damages she sought.”

The court said Cedars was provided some information, such as photos of the plaintiff before and after her surgery, and her allegations that her injuries exceeded the $250,000 noneconomic damages cap. 

"The trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that this information, considered in its totality, did not provide Cedars with sufficient information with which to evaluate the reasonableness of plaintiff’s section 998 offer," the opinion states.

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