By Victoria Colliver, POLITICO PRO

May 23, 2022

Gavin Newsom on Monday signed a bill to update California's medical malpractice damage cap, ending a long-fought battle to adjust the pain-and-suffering limit that has remained unchanged for 47 years.

"After decades on negotiations, legislators, patient groups, and medical professionals have reached a consensus that protects patients and the stability of our health care system," Newsom said in a statement following the bill's signing, which was not public. 

Impact: Patients and loved ones of those who have been injured or killed by medical negligence have long argued the outdated Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, has prevented them from seeking justice in the courtroom. The 1975 law set the pain-and-suffering cap for medical malpractice cases at $250,000, a figure that hasn't changed since, making it increasingly difficult for victims to find an attorney willing to take on these cases. 

The compromise agreement, reached in late April, was forged by the very groups that have long been on opposing sides of the MICRA battles — doctors, hospitals, lawmakers, insurance carriers and injured patients along with victims of wrongful medical deaths. The resulting bill moved swiftly through the legislative process.

A key driver behind the deal was a looming statewide ballot initiative to raise the cap. Proponents of the measure said Monday they had pulled it from November ballot, as promised. The dollar limits in the new law weren't as high as what the ballot measure would have allowed, but the legislative compromise avoids a costly and contentious campaign.

The new law: CA AB 35(21R), by Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-San Bernardino) and state Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), raises the pain-and-suffering cap for cases not involving a death to $350,000, beginning next year, and gradually to $750,000 over 10 years. The limit for cases involving a patient's death goes to $500,0000 — and to $1 million over the decade. The maximum awards would continue to bump up by 2 percent each year starting in 2034.

The reaction: While doctors have long defended MICRA as a way to keep malpractice insurance premiums under control, the California Medical Association agreed to the deal, saying that it modernized MICRA while protecting medical-liability insurance rates.

What's next: The new law goes into effect on Jan. 1.