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MICRA: California’s Medical Malpractice Damage Cap

Money and GavelVictims of medical malpractice can suffer serious injuries. These injuries can cause economic harm, from doctor’s bills to correct the medical error to lost wages from missing work. They can also cause non-pecuniary losses, such as pain, suffering, disfigurement, and lost quality of life. Unfortunately, California law strictly limits how much a medical malpractice victim can recover for non-economic losses.


California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) caps the amount of money an injured person can recover for noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Medical malpractice is defined as a health care provider’s negligent act or failure to act, while providing medical services, that causes an injury or death. MICRA limits the amount that can be recovered to $250,000 for non-economic damages.

For an injured person, damages of this type may include pain, suffering, disfigurement, psychological trauma, discomfort, loss of enjoyment of life, etc. For a family member suing for wrongful death in a medical malpractice case, non-economic damages can include loss of society, comfort, protection, care, companionship, and more. Economic damages, such as compensation for past and future medical care, lost income, or loss of earning capacity, are not capped. Approximately half of other states either have no cap on medical malpractice damages or have caps only in some circumstances.

The Limit’s Impact

MICRA was passed in 1975, but the statutory language does not provide for the damage cap to be adjusted for inflation. Thus, since 1975, medical malpractice victims have been limited to a $250,000 recovery for noneconomic damages. In 2014, voters defeated Proposition 46, which would have increased the cap to $1.1 million, to account for inflation.

MICRA’s damage cap has a disproportionate impact on children, the elderly, stay-at-home parents, and low-income victims. Since these groups have little or no income, economic losses will be small or nonexistent. This means that most or all of the damages received in a medical malpractice lawsuit would be non-economic, and thus capped at $250,000, no matter the injury.

Wrongful Death

The damage cap applies to both injury and wrongful death cases. In California, only one lawsuit may be brought in a wrongful death case, regardless of how many plaintiffs join the action. This means that, even if a dozen family members are suing for wrongful death, the damage cap applies to the lawsuit, not the individual. Only one $250,000 aggregate recovery is allowed—each plaintiff cannot recover his or her own $250,000.

However, in a personal injury, rather than wrongful death, case, a patient and his or her spouse may bring separate lawsuits claiming loss of consortium, which means that the injured person and the spouse could each recover up to the $250,000 limit in their individual suits.

Medical malpractice cases are already expensive to litigate because of the cost of bringing in expert witnesses; and even if victims win, they cannot recover those litigation costs. The advice of an experienced attorney, however, can help you to maximize your recovery. If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident or have been intentionally injured, please contact the skilled San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P for a free consultation today at (408) 289-1417.

Client Reviews
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.