California’s 5th Appellate District Court recently upheld the constitutionality of our state’s landmark Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which caps non-economic damage awards at $250,000.
This case, Stinnett v. Tam, is just the latest in many legal challenges to MICRA that have been funded by trial lawyer groups from across the country. See previous blog post here.
CMA filed a “friend of the court” brief and also participated in oral argument, telling the court that the broader goal of MICRA—to ensure access to care—is just as relevant today as it was in 1975. CMA noted that as recently as 2005 the Legislature declared that there was a “growing crisis” in physician supply, and that California needs to continue to attract and retain physicians rather than drive them away.
CMA was joined in this case by the California Hospital Association, the California Dental Association, and the American Medical Association.
The original complaint, filed in 2007, concluded with a jury verdict awarding the plaintiff $148,302 for past economic loss, $1,242,093 for future economic loss, and $6,000,000 for noneconomic damages, also called “pain and suffering.” In a post-verdict motion, the defendant moved to reduce the noneconomic damages award pursuant to MICRA’s $250,000 cap. The plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that MICRA is unconstitutional, because the medical professional liability insurance crisis of 1975 no longer exists, thereby eliminating the rational basis that originally justified MICRA. The trial court disagreed and granted the defendant’s motion. The appeals court agreed with the lower court’s ruling.
Today, MICRA is still working to restrain premium rates in California, while states without liability reform are seeing dramatically higher premiums. Because of MICRA, California has a system that is affordable, pays patients for their full economic and medical losses, and promotes patient safety and improved patient care.
- MICRA allows patients with justifiable medical negligence claims to receive the following forms of compensation:
- Unlimited economic damages for past and future medical costs.
- Unlimited damages for lost wages, lifetime earning potential or any other economic losses.
- Unlimited punitive damages.
- Up to $250,000 for noneconomic damages (pain and suffering).
MICRA’s $250,000 cap on non-economic damages has proven to be an effective way of limiting meritless lawsuits and keeping health care costs lower, but has been targeted by the trial lawyers because it restricts the amount of money they can collect in attorney’s fees. MICRA includes a sliding pay scale to control attorney contingency fees, ensuring that more money goes to patients, not lawyers.