Do Medical Malpractice Damage Caps Affect My Medical Malpractice Case?
In the last decades, a number of states have enacted damage caps in medical malpractice cases. These damage caps are a huge point of debate in every state in the U.S. It’s time to separate fact from fiction.
What is a damage cap?
Damage caps in California medical malpractice cases are state laws that restrict the amount of money a person injured by medical malpractice can receive as compensation from a lawsuit. One misconception about damage caps is that they apply to all types of damages. They do not. Noneconomic damages a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice case are limited. In California, economic damages are not reduced by damage caps.
“Economic damages” refers to verifiable economic losses (past and future) resulting from their injuries, compensation for past and future medical bills, loss of earnings and earning capacity, and other out of pocket expense. Although any consideration of future economic losses requires analysis and expertise, experts can make a very educated prediction about what those damages will be.
“Non-Economic Damages” refer to damages for losses that don’t represent an objectively verifiable cost to the victim. These damages include: pain, suffering, loss of consortium (loss of, or a reduction of, a spouse’s love, affection, support, etc.), and other similar types of damage/injury. Although these damages represent very real losses, experience and knowledge about what would be an appropriate award or figure for the harm that befell the victim is often required. The amount of non-economic damages in a particular case many times has to be determined by a jury.
Damage cap laws may vary from state-to-state, but we’re going to focus on California Law.
Is your Riverside Medical Malpractice lawsuit subject to a damage cap?
If you were injured by medical malpractice in Riverside, damage caps apply to you. California’s damage cap law is found in the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), passed by the state legislature in 1975. This law limits the amount of non-economic damages awardable in a California medical malpractice case to $250,000, no matter how bad the injury, or even if the case involves the death of a loved one. And the limits have not changed since 1975!! Fortunately, California’s law does NOT restrict the amount of economic damages a person can be awarded.
Are damage caps in California Medical Malpractice lawsuits fair?
No. Damage caps in California Medical Malpractice cases are not fair to victims of malpractice or their families. Pain and suffering of a plaintiff is very real when their lives have been permanently changed by a doctor’s negligence, and limiting the ability to recover appropriate damages for their pain amounts to telling them that the state would rather protect doctors from their own mistakes than permit a jury to decide.
Some individuals will not have substantial economic damages. For example, stay-at-home parents and retirees may not receive substantial economic damages in a medical malpractice case because they will not have lost wages to consider. But their injuries are just as real and debilitating as others. There’s also the problem that the California damages cap has not been adjusted for inflation in the 39 years since its enactment! $250,000 was worth far more in 1975 than it is today.
Although the medical industry argues that medical malpractice damage caps are fair, their arguments typically can be reduced to the idea that doctors aren’t making enough money. They believe that doctors should not have to pay “such high premiums” for medical malpractice insurance. In actuality, the premiums have gone up, just as in every type of auto or other insurance, with or without such caps.
It is worth pursuing a Riverside Medical Malpractice case despite the damage cap law?
Despite the $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in California medical malpractice cases, a case may certainly still be worth pursuing. Medical malpractice verdicts of millions of dollars are still possible, despite the MICRA damage cap. For instance, years of wages lost as a result of injuries sustained by a medical negligence incident can be calculated in the millions of dollars. And that’s not considering the medical bills that mount for someone who has suffered a horrific injury as a result of medical malpractice. People who have been injured/killed by doctor or hospital negligence deserve the best representation. And the cap (and laws) can change.
Is anyone doing anything about unfair damage caps in California medical malpractice cases?
A number of states have laws imposing damage caps on medical malpractice lawsuits, but that trend is beginning to reverse. The California Supreme Court is the latest to take up the issue. In November 2014, the Court said that it would examine the constitutionality of California’s $250,000 damage cap in a case captioned Hughes V. Pham.
One recent victory against medical malpractice damage caps came in Florida, where the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s damage cap was unconstitutional. In striking down the cap, the court said: “At the present time, the cap on noneconomic damages serves no other purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured or their surviving family members . . . The statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages does not bear a rational relationship to the stated purpose that the cap is purported to address, the alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida.”
Your medical malpractice case may still be worth pursuing despite the current unfair damage cap on non-economic damages in MICRA. If you have been injured by the negligence of a doctor or other medical personnel, the best way to determine whether you are owed compensation under California law is by consulting with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. As soon as possible, call Heiting & Irwin Attorneys at Law for a free consultation with one of our highly competent attorneys. Time limits apply to all injury claims, so don’t delay.