MICRA: California's Cap for Medical Malpractice

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Medical Malpractice in California

What is the MICRA?

In 1975, physicians in California were faced with skyrocketing insurance rates. Medical malpractice lawsuits were blamed for the rising insurance rates. Some doctors had to stop their practice because they could not find insurance that would cover them. Higher insurance rates were being passed on to consumers in the form of increased healthcare costs. In response, there was an effort to "reform" tort law (tort law concerns lawsuits about someone’s negligence or carelessness), and reduce plaintiff’s lawyers’ fees.

The result was the California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) of 1975. MICRA caps "general damages" for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of companionship, at $250,000. "Special" or "economic" damages, such as lost wages, extra costs, and repair or replacement, remain unlimited. MICRA limits attorney fees. It also allows defendants to pay the damage award over time rather all at once.

MICRA requires that the action be against a "health care provider" based on "professional negligence." A health care provider is essentially someone with a license, and professional negligence points to the carelessness of a professionally licensed person, which is a higher standard of care than ordinary negligence. This means that in a "slip and fall" case, such as when a hospital patient slips on a puddle of liquid soap left by a janitor, patients can recover unlimited general damages. The same theory applies to the hospital’s failure to supply adequate security, equipment, personnel, or facilities in cases where one patient injures another.

How Has California’s MICRA Impacted Patients?

As MICRA has been around for more than 30 years, experts have been able to evaluate its effectiveness in lowering insurance rates and the cost of health care in general. It has been called a "model" for the nation. Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, and Wisconsin have all enacted a variation of California’s MICRA.

However, there is some disagreement over whether MICRA has been effective. Medical journals have generally praised MICRA for lowering doctors’ insurance rates. However, some law professors have criticized it as being sluggish or ineffective in actually lowering health costs. There are also many stories of children who have been, for example, blinded by a doctor’s negligence, where the pain and suffering over a lifetime is arguably more than $250,000. Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and Washington, each had a variation of California’s MICRA, but the courts in these states have declared the medical malpractice caps unconstitutional.

Do I Need an Attorney For My Medical Malpractice Case?

If you or a loved one has been injured by medical malpractice, you should speak to an experienced personal injury attorney immediately to learn more about the value of your case and what types of recoveries are available to you. Many California attorneys are knowledgeable of and specialize in malpractice litigation.

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Last Modified: 03-18-2014 10:02 AM PDT

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