Since 1975, California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) has been the golden standard of medical liability tort reforms. Signed into law during the nation’s first medical malpractice insurance premium crisis, MICRA instituted a cap of $250,000 on non-economic (pain-and-suffering) damages, capped the percentage of an award available for attorney fees, shortened the statute of limitations for medical liability claims and allowed physicians found negligent to pay awards off in periodic payments. Proponents of MICRA consider the $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, which is not indexed for inflation, the most crucial component of the law for keeping medical professional liability insurance premiums reasonable in the state.
Since its enactment, the California Plaintiffs Bar has tried to have it either overturned as unconstitutional through the courts or eliminated legislatively. Neither strategy has proven successful. In 1985, the California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of MICRA, and there has not been enough political will in the California Legislature for tampering with the Act.
Now opponents of MICRA are gearing up to get a ballot initiative in front of California voters in the November 2014 elections. Specifically, they want to raise the non-economic damage cap to $1.1 million, where they say it would be if the 1975 cap were to be adjusted for inflation. According to the consumer-advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, the $250,000 cap in 1975, when considering inflation, would only be $58,000 in today’s currency.
Those opposing the MICRA cap argue that it is keeping legitimately harmed patients from their day in court. They say that medical professional liability insurers know that with most cases, if they go to trial, the largest damage they could incur would be $250,000. Because plaintiff attorneys work on contingency, and a medical malpractice trial is expensive, even if they were to prove their case, there would not be enough money to cover their expenses.
Consumer Watchdog is spearheading the signature drive for getting the initiative on the ballot. The group will begin gathering the signatures in September of this year, and they need the signatures of 400,000 registered voters to succeed.