Initiative To Raise California Malpractice Cap Underway

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The consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog and the legislator who initially backed California's 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which caps non-economic damages awarded in malpractice cases at $250,000, are working together on a ballot initiative to raise the cap to $1.1 million to adjust for inflation.

California Assemblyman Barry Keene, who originally sponsored MICRA now deems the law “oppressive” and in need of revision. Because the cap was not inflation indexed, the original $250,000 limit on malpractice awards for pain and suffering, mental anguish and quality of life is worth just $58,000 in 2013 dollars.

The law was originally proposed to deal with the skyrocketing costs of malpractice insurance, a rise in the number of medical malpractice lawsuits, and high numbers of physicians leaving medical practice due to these concerns.

Although MICRA was successful in terms of keeping physicians in the state and reduced the cost and frequency of lawsuits, many attorneys today are declining to take medical malpractice cases due to the large time investment and low payoff associated with malpractice lawsuits.

To address these growing concerns, trial attorneys and Consumer Watchdog are working together on a ballot initiative for November 2014 that aims to raise the cap on non-economic damages to $1.1 million and permanently index the rate to inflation.

The nonprofit group has stated if the legislature reforms MICRA this summer, it will hold off on the campaign. However, due to the influence that the medical lobby and insurance industry have on the legislature, this result is unlikely.

MICRA opponents say the only beneficiaries of the law have been insurers, who charge clinicians excessive premiums. In 2012, the California Insurance Commissioner issued a malpractice insurance premium reduction, after it asked the top six medical malpractice insurance companies to justify their rates.

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