Reforming California’s Malpractice Cap is a Racial Justice Issue

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People of Color Disproportionately Harmed by Medical Negligence & Limits on Compensation


California’s 45-year-old cap on compensation for patients harmed and killed by medical negligence disproportionately impacts communities of color, keeping people of color out of the courts and denying them justice.

The COVID-19 crisis has further exposed the racial disparities and unequal outcomes in the health care system. The cap is an example of the systemic bias that perpetuates poor health care outcomes in California’s communities of color that experience lower quality health care, suffer more preventable medical errors, and are denied answers and accountability when they are harmed.The negative impact of the cap on patients of color is compounded by the racial wealth gap. 

The current reckoning on racial justice in California, and across the country, has drawn the disparities in health care and in access to justice that the cap created and continues to impose on communities of color into sharp relief.

Disparate Care in Communities of Color 

Decades of research shows that patients of color receive worse medical care are more likely to experience adverse medical events and medical malpractice, from missed cancer diagnoses to maternal mortality

Patients of color are more often uninsured, which puts them at greater risk of experiencing medical malpractice.

Worse Maternal Health Outcomes for Non-White Mothers

The California Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review found that Black women in California are more likely to die from treatable pregnancy-related conditions.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the following disparities in maternal health were persistent:

California’s Cap Especially Limits Non-White Patients’ Rights

Damages in a medical malpractice case include lost salary due to injury. Because of the racial income gap, people of color receive less compensation for lost salary and the cap on non-economic damages makes it less likely they will find legal representation and ever get their day in court.

  • The Pew Research Center found that Black men earn around 71% and Hispanic men earn around 67% of the hourly earnings of white men. Black women earn around 76% and Hispanic women earn around 71% that of white women.
  • According to the US Census Bureau, in 2016, the median white family’s wealth nationally was $171,000. For Black families, median wealth amounted to $17,600, or roughly 10% of that for white families. For Latinx families, median wealth was $20,700, or about 12% of that for white families.
Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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