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Damage Caps in California May Soon Face Reform

Gavel and MoneyIn most states, medical malpractice cases have what are referred to as damage caps. These are limits on the amount of money a jury can award, and they are designed to eliminate or reduce frivolous lawsuits. However, California’s damage caps are facing an increasing amount of disapproval, with professionals of all kinds calling for their adjustment. It is a good idea for plaintiffs and potential plaintiffs to familiarize themselves with this debate, lest it affect them in the future.

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) was passed in California in 1975, with the stated objective of lowering health care professionals’ insurance premiums by lowering their tort liability. If tort liability was reduced, so went the thinking, more money would be freed up to put toward providing medical services. The law was met with mixed success, with some arguing that there was no real crisis for doctors’ insurance rates in the first place, and others stating that damage caps have kept health care affordable.

Some parts of MICRA are considered part of the regulatory lexicon, at this point, such as certain limits on attorney’s fees and a specific statute of limitations in which to file a medical malpractice suit. However, the primary point of contention for those who disapprove of the law in California is its cap on non-economic damages, which is set at $250,000. Only two states, Kansas and Montana, have a non-economic damages cap where the limit is as low as California’s, and 21 states have no cap on medical malpractice damages.

Damage Caps and Tort Reform

Set in 1975 at the law’s passage, MICRA’s damage cap is $250,000. However, there is no provision in the law that permits for that cap to be adjusted for inflation, which is the crux of the problem. According to the inflation calculator at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, that amount in 1975 had the buying power equivalent to approximately $1.1 million - a significant disparity-  in today’s dollars. Many industry professionals state that the damage cap is simply too low for many injuries that are caused by medical negligence and malpractice. While no amount of money can ever restore lost mobility or vision, for example, it can go a long way toward adapting one’s life to any injury they may have sustained.

MICRA’s constitutionality has been challenged many times, notably in the 1980s and early 1990s, but since then it has remained part of settled law, for the most part. In late 2014, however, there were two challenges to the damage cap provision of the law within a few months, with no ruling as of this writing on the second. Critics of the cap argue that plaintiffs are simply not receiving their fair share if they are able to prove malpractice, while its proponents argue for much the same factors that prompted MICRA’s original passage, such as decreasing lawsuits and frivolous jury awards. This year may see a major change in the way California juries are permitted to consider non-economic damages.

Contact A Medical Malpractice Attorney

Regardless of what happens to the cap on non-economic damages, California has no cap on actual damages (things like lost wages, medical bills and other tangible losses). Still, a malpractice case can be difficult to win without competent representation. The passionate San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. have years of experience in these cases, and are ready, willing and able to assist you in trying to get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to discuss your options. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Benito, Alameda, and Monterey.

Client Reviews
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My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.