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 passed in 1975, and is codified at California Civil Code section 3333.2.
Among other things, MICRA places a $250,000 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.)
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.
One of the more controversial aspects of MICRA is that the $250,000 cap has no provision accounting for inflation; it's the same amount this year as it was when the law was passed, despite the fact that $250,000 in today's dollars isn't nearly what it was in 1975. (Editor's note: A 2022 California ballot initiative could let state voters change the MICRA cap for the first time since its passage. The proposed initiative would boost the cap to around $1.2M and allow judges and juries to exceed the limit in cases involving catastrophic injury and other special circumstances.)
Learn more about damages in medical malpractice cases.
by: David Goguen, J.D.