Does California Cap Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases?

Medical mistakes are a leading cause of avoidable injury and death. In fact, one study found that medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Another revealed that one out of every five patients suffers an injury because of a medical error.

In California, you have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit if you’re injured because of a medical professional’s negligence. However, it can be difficult to get all of the money you need and deserve.

There’s one major reason for this. Laws tend to be written for the benefit of the medical industrial complex, not injured patients. One law, in particular, places a cap on the damages you can recover from a medical malpractice case.

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA)

In 1975, California lawmakers passed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA. MICRA caps non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at $250,000.

The law was reportedly implemented to protect doctors and medical health professionals faced with rising malpractice insurance costs. However, malpractice insurance premiums continued to rise in years after MICRA was signed into law. In 1988, the state gained the right to regulate these insurance premiums. However, MICRA didn’t go anywhere. The law limiting an injured patient’s right to recover compensation remained in place.

MICRA and Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages

When you file a lawsuit, you’re typically entitled to both economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are paid to compensate you for the verifiable financial costs of your injury. These can include things like medical bills, rehabilitation, and lost wages. When you get an award of economic damages, you should be back in the financial situation you were in before you were injured.

MICRA does not affect your ability to recover economic damages. You can demand compensation for all of your financial and out-of-pocket costs.

Non-economic damages are paid to compensate you for injuries that are difficult to value in terms of dollars and cents. This can include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Disfigurement
  • Scarring
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life, and more.

It can also include the suffering you experience after the loss of a child because of a medical mistake. Since these injuries are so subjective, the value can vary significantly from one case to the next.

MIRCA caps non-economic damages at $250,000. It doesn’t matter how devastating your injuries are. You can receive no more than a quarter of a million dollars for your suffering.

You Still Have the Right to Demand Compensation

Yes, California law limits how much you can recover if you win a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t demand the money you need and deserve. Remember, there’s no cap on economic awards. This means that you can still recover the costs of your medical care, rehabilitation, lost income, and disability.

The cap only applies to non-economic awards. While this is a blow to injured patients, it shouldn’t stop you from moving forward with an injury lawsuit.