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The Real Losers Under MICRA

By Sara B. Morgan

California enacted the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, known as MICRA, in 1975 to combat concerns over the availability and rising price of medical malpractice insurance. This Act established a limitation, or cap, of $250,000 on the amount a person could recover for any pain, suffering, distress, anguish, and loss of quality of life in a medical malpractice case.

The theory was that MICRA would decrease the number of medical malpractice claims, as well as the costs of resolving those claims. It was further speculated that these savings would “trickle down” to consumers, resulting in lower or stabilized insurance coverage premiums and increased availability of medical services.

No one argues that the publicized goal of medical malpractice caps was to save money, but the real question is, to save money for whom? Under MICRA’s system, the real winners are health care professionals – negligent health care professionals – whose damages are limited to just $250,000 regardless of the type of harm they cause their patients.

MICRA’s impact on Californians injured as a result of negligent health care professionals is widespread. In fact, MICRA caps operate on half of all plaintiffs verdicts in California to reduce the award a jury determines necessary to compensate those plaintiffs for their losses. The end result was a reduction in costs – negligent health care professionals benefitted from a 30% reduction in liability. What is lacking is any evidence showing that patients benefitted from a similar reduction in medical malpractice.

Even more disturbing, research has proven that the jury awards most likely to be capped under MICRA are those cases which resulted in death, in severe non-fatal injuries, and injuries to children younger than 1 year.

This is our justice system’s ultimate betrayal of those Californians most severely injured by negligent health care professionals. It is the responsibility of health care professionals to be accountable for their negligent actions, just as any individual, under our laws, is held accountable. For patients who have died or been severely injured, or who are very young, there is no voice and hence, no justice. Only the California voters can speak on their behalf, by reforming the medical malpractice caps in a manner that protects the voiceless and not the negligent.

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