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Medical Malpractice Limits Changing?

Paul W. Ralph
Paul W. Ralph

Attorney At Law

According to news reports, a legislative deal was stuck earlier this week affecting the amount of money that an injured patient and/or their family can receive in a medical malpractice case. The existing law limits the amount of general, or “noneconomic” damages recoverable to $250,000.00. This rule has been in place since 1976 and was a part of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). Amazingly, and to the disappointment of countless patients and their families, this arbitrary limit has remained unchanged for 46 years. Now, it seems those injured by careless health care professionals and surviving family members of those killed by negligent doctors may see an increase in the amount of compensation they can recover.

Proposed Increase in Malpractice Recovery Limits

According to news reports and press releases from various medical groups, a deal has been struck and a new version of MICRA will be enacted on January 1, 2023, assuming the bill is signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsome. In the proposed law, the amount of noneconomic damages (those for physical pain, mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, etc.) that can be recovered by an injured patient will be increased to $350,000.00. Every year after 2023 and for 10 years that figure will be increased by $40,000.00 until the limit reaches $750,000.00. Thereafter, the amount will increase by 2% per year to account for inflation. The proposed statute will also change whether more than one health care professional is subject to the new limitation. In other words, if you have two independent professionals who commit malpractice on the same patient (and it happens), then the total recovery could be as much as $700,000.00, and perhaps even more in really rare circumstances.

With regard to wrongful death cases arising from medical malpractice, the current limit of $250,000.00 will be increased to a limit of $500,000 that will grow over the next 10 years to $1,000,000.00, with a 2% annual increase thereafter. Presently, there is just about nothing more unfair than limiting a family’s recovery to $250,000.00 when they have lost a child, but that is often the case. Absent economic losses (such as lost earnings, funeral/burial expenses, etc.) this is the highest amount that is recoverable by the surviving family of a malpractice victim. Sometimes, the amount recovered must be divided among multiple family members which makes the individual recoveries shamefully inadequate. This new law, if enacted, will double the amount the surviving family can recover. While not perfect (and unlike virtually every other area of personal injury law where there are no compensatory damage limits), this proposal is definitely a long-awaited move in the right direction.

Other Changes to MICRA

In addition to raising the limits recoverable by malpractice victims and their families, the proposed law will also change the fee structure for attorneys handling such cases. Under existing law, there is a fairly complicated sliding scale approach to the calculation of attorney’s fees in malpractice cases. In brief, the new statute would simplify the calculation and essentially limit fees to 25% of the recovery if a settlement is reached before the filing of a lawsuit or commencement of the arbitration process. The fees increase to 33% of the recovery after the filing of a complaint with the court or a formal demand for arbitration has been made. After trial or arbitration, the attorney has the option of requesting a larger fee from the court or arbitrator.

If all of this were not enough, the new legislation will add a new category of health care provider to the parties subject to the rule. That new category is called a “health care institution”, which seems to include hospitals or other health care facilities. When health care providers or health care institutions are unaffiliated, the new limits mentioned above can be stacked on top of each other. There are other changes proposed in the new law, but they are not nearly as important as the increases in the MICRA limits.

Contact an Orange County Malpractice Attorney for Help

If you were injured or a loved one killed by a health care professional, seeking the advice of a seasoned malpractice attorney is likely the best first step to take toward obtaining compensation for the injuries and damages suffered. Mr. Ralph has more than 30 years of experience at handling personal injury and malpractice cases in Orange County and the Southern California area. His office is centrally located in Orange County for the convenience of his clients. Mr. Ralph’s services are provided on a contingency basis so if there is no recovery there are no fees. He can be reached for a free consultation by calling the number below or simply sending a message with the details of your potential case.

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