Will a Ballot Initiative Reform Malpractice Claims?

California is a tough state for anyone claiming medical malpractice against a physician. The difficulty stems from a state law passed in 1975, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which capped medical malpractice judgments at a very low level. This law has made it difficult for claimants to recoup their full damages in the face of doctors’ negligence. However, MICRA may soon be changed. A consumer group is prepared to put an initiative on the 2014 ballot that would reform the law, finally bringing fairness to California malpractice law.

MICRA capped malpractice judgments at $250,000, with the exception of medical bills and economic losses. Pain and suffering damages, therefore, have a hard cap.

What was the goal of MICRA?

  • MICRA was intended to head off the astronomical rise in malpractice insurance prices. For this purpose, the law did work, though the attenuation of malpractice insurance costs may have resulted more from insurance reform than the malpractice cap.
  • The primary issue arises from the fact that the damage cap was not tied to inflation and, thus, has not risen over time. That $250,000 from 1975 would equate to only around $58,000 today — not what the law originally intended and nowhere near enough to compensate malpractice victims for their suffering, loss of physical ability and reduced quality of life. Juries routinely award larger sums for pain and suffering, only to have those amounts knocked down to get them under the cap.

MICRA’s biggest defenders are the medical associations that represent physicians. But should today’s pain and suffering be measured in 1975 dollars? Whether there is a ballot measure or not, medical malpractice in California may be facing reform.

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