Under California law, damages in medical malpractice cases are capped at just $250,000.
If that figure sounds anachronistic… well, that’s because it is: literally!
The $250,000 cap has been in place for nearly four decades – it became law way back in 1975, when then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). Forty years later, that same cap remains in place. (Curiously, Governor Brown is, once again, Governor of the Golden State).
But that old cap may not last much longer.
Passionate California consumer advocates and attorneys have demanded reform to make the system more fair and modern. Thousands of signatories hope to qualify the “Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act” to go on California’s November ballot later this year. The Act takes its name from a tragic accident: in 2003, two children (Troy and Alana Park) died in a horrific car crash, after their mother felt asleep because her doctors overprescribed her pain killers.
Bob Pack, the father of the two children, wrote the bill. He said the Act would accomplish several things:
• It would force doctors to undergo random drug testing;• It would curb drug abuse related to “doctor shopping” by leveraging the state’s current prescription drug data base;• It would increase the cap for pain and suffering in medmal cases, which is still stuck at the 1975 level of $250,000.
Pack told reporters that: “inside these boxes [the ballots for the vote] are the voices of many victims and many Californians who want to see this change.” Unsurprisingly, hospitals, doctors, and community clinics have resisted moving the cap. They fear that doing so might spark a wave of lawsuits and increase patient costs. The California Medical Association’s President, Dr. Richard Thorp, did not mince words: “this initiative is bad for patients, bad for taxpayers, and bad for California’s entire system of healthcare delivery.”
Sacramento Democrat, Darrell Steinberg, hopes to ward off a ballot initiative by seeking a legislative solution to get the MICRA cap bumped up to $500,000. This rate, as he noted, would “still be far below the rate of inflation, since MICRA became law 39 years ago.”
Steinberg hopes to avoid a political bloodbath: “initiative battles [are] costly and uncertain and will damage the reputation of two fine professions… The issue cries out for a legislative solution, and what I’m offering is a conservative increase that’s fair to injured patients as well as the medical and legal communities.”
Steinberg maintains that his compromise number ($500,000) is reasonable and that it would fairly compensate injured patients without significantly increasing medical costs.
But a group called Consumer Watchdog is not so sure. That group’s director, Jamie Court, said “legislators have had years to make this change… if there is no popular legislation for patient safety, then the people will make the change.”
The situation in California illustrates the complexity of the medmal cap debate and its divisive tenor. Fortunately, if you or someone you love got hurt due to a doctor or hospital’s negligence or carelessness, you don’t have to fight your legal battle on your own. Call a D.C. medical malpractice attorney here at Regan Zambri & Long today at (202) 463-3030 for a free consultation.