How Does the MICRA Damages Cap Affect a California Medical Malpractice Case?

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law


How does the MICRA damages cap affect a California medical malpractice case?


Like many states, California has a law on the books that limits the amount of money an injured patient can receive even after a jury has found that the patient's doctor (or other health care provider) committed medical malpractice. You can find California's take on medical malpractice damage caps in the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which was originally passed in 1975, and is codified at California Civil Code section 3333.2.

Among other things, MICRA places a cap on "noneconomic damages" in medical malpractice lawsuits. So what are noneconomic damages? They are awarded to a plaintiff to compensate for things like pain and suffering, discomfort, loss of enjoyment of life, anxiety, and even the psychological impact of scarring or disfigurement. They are called noneconomic damages because they represent the kinds of losses that cannot be easily measured by a dollar amount. (Learn more about pain and suffering in a medical malpractice case.)

One of the more controversial aspects of MICRA is that the original cap of $250,000 had no provision accounting for inflation. However, legislation signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in May 2022 increases the noneconomic damages cap for the first time since 1975, effective January 1, 2023. The new caps apply to all cases initiated on or after that date. For 2023, the caps are set at $350,000 for malpractice-related injuries that do not involve wrongful death, and $500,000 for medical malpractice that resulted in wrongful death. Beginning in 2024, the dollar amounts will be bumped up each year by $40,000 for personal injury and $50,000 for wrongful death, until 2034 when the caps reach $750,000 and $1 million, respectively. At that point the amount will be adjusted annually by two percent to account for inflation. Note that the $250,000 cap will still apply to all cases filed before January 1, 2023. (You can read the full text of the legislation (AB35) on the California Legislature's website.)

Keep in mind that California has no cap on the amount of money that an injured patient can receive as compensation for medical care (past and future) made necessary by the malpractice, nor is there a cap on lost income or impairment of the patient's ability to earn a living because of the malpractice. These kinds of losses would be categorized as economic damages, and MICRA's cap doesn't affect them.

Learn more about damages in medical malpractice cases.

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