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Manteca family paves way for new medical malpractice cap

Jun 17, 2023Jun 17, 2023

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MANTECA, Calif. — A Manteca family’s story has helped change a state law and remove the cap on medical malpractice payments — now they’re hosting an event to help others.

It’s the story of 29-year-old Shawn Washington.

“He was concerned about his breathing. He was coughing up blood. And unfortunately he was left in the ER room for over 8 hours, and ultimately it led to his passing without getting the proper treatment in the right amount of time,” said Sharon Washington Barens, his sister.

She started the nonprofit Change 4 Shawn to fight for justice for her brother who died in 2019.

“He unfortunately never got to meet his daughter who turned four in July. It was a tragic loss for my family. He was the first in our immediate family to pass,” she said.

Sharon says Shawn forgot to bring his wallet to the hospital, and she believes assumptions were made that cost him his life.

“‘Here’s someone that probably doesn’t have insurance.’ And ‘why exhaust all of these causes on someone who may not be able to pay?’ Had they actually taken the time to care for him the way that they would their loved one, maybe his medical information was already on file because he had visited that hospital multiple times before,” said Barens.

She joined the patients for fairness initiative that resulted in the governor signing Assembly Bill 35 to modernize the state’s malpractice system.

“Now there’s no longer a cap on the amount that families can receive as well as they have a little more time to file will help people feel like they can fight for justice,” said Barens.

The AB35 legislation increases the existing $250,000 cap on non-economic damages and provides for future increases to account for inflation.

The legislation establishes two separate caps, depending on whether a wrongful death claim is involved. In a wrongful death case, the cap increases to $500,000. Each January 1st thereafter, this cap increases by $50,000 until it reaches $1 million. If the medical malpractice case does not involve wrongful death, the cap starts at $350,000, and increases each year by $40,000 until it reaches $750,000.

An annual art and jam even is being held Aug. 12 in Oakland from 2 to 8 p.m. to honor Shawn and bring help to others in similar situations.

“What an honor it is that I get to speak of my brother and say that he’s part of history and change. I thank God for being able to carry such a burden but also uplift my community,” said Barens.

Editor's Note: (This story was updated to provide more clarity on AB35).

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