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MICRA and Its Effects: What You Should Know

GavelMedical malpractice suits in California, including claims against doctors and hospitals, are subject to caps, or restrictions, on the amount of damages recoverable in most cases. While there has been a concerted effort to amend these caps, they remain at 1975 levels, which is a cause for concern for many plaintiffs. In the absence of a new law, the best option for you as a patient is to be familiar with these damage caps and understand how to maximize your chances of receiving enough to cover your bills.

MICRA and its Origins

California’s damage caps are written into a law called the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which was passed in 1975 with the intended aim of lowering malpractice premiums for medical professionals. MICRA established a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, as well as limits on attorney fees in medical malpractice cases and a shorter time limit (statute of limitations) in which to bring suit against health care practitioners. The aim of lowering premiums achieved only limited success, however. Over time, premiums actually rose, until the California Insurance Act Section 1861.01 was passed in 1988 to regulate them more effectively.

There has been less evidence of MICRA’s effect on malpractice liability, and the Act has steadily decreased in popularity over the years due to its lack of adjustment for inflation. Indeed, $250,000 was considered a substantial amount for non-economic damages in the 1970s, but its value has declined. According to recent figures established by the federal government, the cap would need to be adjusted to approximately $1.2 million in today’s currency to have similar purchasing power.

How Does MICRA Affect my Lawsuit?

For today’s plaintiffs, it is critical to both remain aware of the statute of limitations and to understand exactly what damages are being capped by MICRA. Failure to understand either factor can adversely affect your suit. The statute of limitations is fairly straightforward: in California, it is normally two years for most personal injury causes of action (of which medical malpractice is technically one). However, if your suit is against a health care provider, the statute is capped at one year or three years - more specifically, you have one year from the date you discovered the injury, or three years from the date of the injury, whichever is earlier. There are generally no exceptions permitted.

In terms of damages, you must remember that MICRA only applies to non-economic damages, which are damages that are not tangibly measured, such as pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, and anxiety or other psychological difficulties. Because these damages are so difficult to measure, it can often happen in other states that non-economic awards balloon, arguably causing issues for future plaintiffs and making healthcare professionals even more reluctant to take risks. Economic damages, by comparison, are those with tangible costs, such as medical bills, lost wages and care expenses. To restrict or cap economic damages runs counter to public policy, meaning that the public would be negatively affected by such a decision.

Contact a Malpractice Attorney

To date, MICRA’s damage cap is still on the books, and as such, the best thing to do is to consult an experienced attorney on how best to frame your case so that your bills are paid. The knowledgeable San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. are very familiar with all the technical parts of the law, and will do our best to advise you on what path is best for you to follow. Call us today at (408) 289-1417 to set up a free consultation. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Alameda, Monterey, San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Benito.

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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.