A medical malpractice claim arises when a patient is harmed by a health care professional who fails to perform their duties according to the appropriate standard of care.
In 1975, the state of California capped the non-economic damages a plaintiff could recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit at $250,000.
A new law raises the $250,000 damages cap in medical malpractice lawsuits for the 1st time in nearly 50 years.
Let’s take a look at the law and what the changes might mean for your medical malpractice lawsuit.
What are damage caps?
Most states have damage caps that limit the amount of damages plaintiffs can receive in certain cases.
California currently has a number of damage caps in place.
If the jury awards an amount above the damage cap, the court will automatically reduce the amount to be in compliance with the cap.
What are the current damage caps for medical malpractice lawsuits in California?
To understand the current damage caps on medical malpractice claims in California, it’s helpful to understand the types of damages you can recover in a medical malpractice case.
In a California medical malpractice case, you can recover the following damages:
- Economic damages. Economic damages represent objectively verifiable monetary losses caused by your accident. Common examples of economic damages include medical expenses and loss of past and future earnings.
- Non-economic damages. Non-economic damages represent subjective, non-monetary damages caused by your accident. Common non-economic damages include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.
- Punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and are only available in cases where the defendant acted with malice.
The California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) was passed in 1975. The law placed a $250,000 damage cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.
The non-economic damage cap was originally passed to curb concerns that doctors were leaving California due to rising insurance premiums resulting from large medical malpractice awards.
Critics of the damage cap have argued for years that the cap should be raised to account for inflation. Critics have also argued that the cap unreasonably limits how much money injured individuals can receive while deterring attorneys from taking on medical malpractice cases.
Consider the following real-life example:
Steven Olsen was 2 years old when he fell and a stick punctured his face. As he became more and more lethargic following the fall, his parents took him to several hospitals requesting a brain scan, fearing that an infection could be growing.
The doctors all refused.
When doctors finally agreed to a CT scan, it was too late. Steven Olsen was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Today, Steven is 32 years old. He is blind and cannot eat or walk by himself. He requires round-the-clock supervision.
In 1995, a jury awarded Steven’s parents $4.5 million in economic damages and $7 million in non-economic damages. However, because of the medical malpractice damages cap, the $7 million award was reduced to $250,000.
What are the new damage caps on medical malpractice lawsuits?
Assembly Bill 35 proposed to raise the non-economic damages cap on medical malpractice claims from $250,000 to $350,000. This amount would gradually increase over a 10-year period to $750,000 (with a 2 percent annual adjustment for inflation after that).
What’s more, in cases where the patient dies, the cap on non-economic damages would increase to $500,000 and would grow to $1 million over the next 10 years.
Finally, Assembly Bill 35 would allow plaintiffs to recover the maximum amounts from both the doctor and the hospital (the current law only allows a single payment of no more than $250,000 even if the plaintiff sues both the doctor and the hospital).
Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 35 into law in June 2022. The changes go into effect on January 1, 2023.
What does the new law mean for my claim?
The new law makes it easier for you to recover the damages you deserve following an act of medical malpractice. What’s more, the law makes it easier to find an attorney willing to take on your case.
If you have a medical malpractice claim, it’s a good idea to reach out to an experienced medical malpractice attorney in California as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help make sure you’re able to take advantage of the new damage caps should the law pass.