Will California Make Medical Malpractice Laws More Progressive?

California is a state known for being one of the most progressive places to live in the United States of America, but oddly enough its medical malpractice laws hardly reflect it at all. That could all change when a new law hits the ballot box as soon as 2020. The purpose? Eliminating a hard cap on how much a court can award a victim in damages.

The 10-page proposal comes from the Zuckerman & Rowley Law Firm and Consumer Watchdog. It would essentially remake California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) into something entirely different.

Right now MICRA prevents victims from receiving any more than $250,000 in damages. 

This kind of cap prevents attorneys from using pricing structures that work in the best interests of both the law firm and their clients, which in turn sometimes reduces the chances that someone living in poverty will bother with a personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit they do not have a strong chance of winning.

Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog said, “We are the most progressive state in the country with the most regressive medical malpractice laws in the country.”

The law technically does not raise the cap, but instead adjusts it for inflation and ensures it remains tied to the rate of future inflation. That would increase the damages cap to $1.2 million. It would continue to be readjusted each year the new law remains in effect. In cases of extreme negligence, catastrophic injury, or death, courts would still be allowed to award victims damages and punitive damages above the aforementioned threshold.

Perhaps even more importantly than that, the new law would also prevent a defendant’s attorneys from arguing that the plaintiff is already receiving compensation through other means, like insurance payouts. 

Although attorneys rarely take on what they consider to be “frivolous” lawsuits, the proposed law is amended from the old one to reduce the number entered into the court system. Plaintiffs’ attorneys must prove beyond reasonable doubt that there is a reasonable basis to make the medical malpractice claim. 

Unfortunately the only way to do this is through a third-party health care provider — and opponents of the new law say that could actually reduce the number of legitimate cases as well, because practitioners might feel compelled to stick together in combating medical malpractice cases that could lead to the destruction of their health care practices. 

Opponents of MICRA tried to overturn the law once before in 2014 with another proposition that ultimately failed. Whether or not the 2020 initiative will succeed is a question for later.