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California Medical Malpractice Premiums Rose After MICRA

Damage Caps on Medical Malpractice Awards Hurt the Seriously Injured

SANTA MONICA, CA -- July 16, 2004 -- Limits on medical malpractice awards harm the seriously injured and the families of patients who died due to medical negligence, a recent study suggests (Capping Non-Economic Awards in Medical Malpractice Trials, RAND). The authors looked at state jury statistics since the passage of a California law capping at $250,000 the amount a patient can recover for non-economic damages such as pain, suffering, and emotional distress. Under California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), a jury may set the amount of an award, but the jury is not told that the award will be capped at $250,000.

The researchers analyzed data from 257 verdicts in California malpractice trials from 1995 through 1999 and found that caps were imposed in 45% of cases won by injured patients. These plaintiffs lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Families of patients who died, those with severe injuries, and babies younger than one year fared the worst. These are the statistics:

  • Caps were imposed in 58% of cases in which the patient died as compared to 41% of injury cases.
  • Plaintiffs with the severest injuries such as brain damage and paralysis had their non-economic damages capped much more often than did those with other injury claims. They usually had reductions of $1 million or more.
  • Plaintiffs who lost the highest percentage of their awards were often those with injuries that greatly reduced their quality of life, but resulted in small economic damages such as lost wages. These plaintiffs sometimes received final judgments that were cut by two-thirds or more from the jury's original decision.
  • Babies less than a year of age had their awards reduced 71% of the time, sometimes for amounts of $2.5 million or more.

Damage Caps Do Not Reduce Malpractice Insurance Premiums

Some physicians claim that limiting medical malpractice awards will lead to reduced medical malpractice insurance premiums. The RAND study does not reach the issue of how or if MICRA effected premiums. However, other studies show that caps on medical malpractice awards, while damaging the severely injured, do little to lower malpractice premiums.

In California, medical malpractice premiums greatly increased during the thirteen-year period after MICRA was enacted and decreased only after insurance regulation was passed, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. In 2001, the average California premium was $27,570, eight percent higher than the average of all states that had no caps on non-economic damages (Medical Malpractice, CAOC).

Consumer groups have urged doctors to focus on improving health care instead of limiting the rights of the sick and injured. They point out that any increases in medical malpractice premiums are due to changing economic conditions, medical errors, and inadequate oversight of health care delivery.

For a discussion about medical malpractice premiums, including suggestions for improving our health care system, see Doctors, Insurers Wrong About Medical Malpractice Crisis. For legal information about your potential medical malpractice case, please feel free to contact us at Brayton Purcell. We have almost 20 years of experience in the medical malpractice field, and work tirelessly to protect the rights of our clients.

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