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Consumer Advocates: Increase Medical Malpractice Noneconomic Damage Cap

Thirty-eight years ago, the California Legislature passed a medical malpractice law that capped noneconomic damages at $250,000. With inflation, that's equal to more than one million dollars today. Yet, legislation rarely takes inflation into account, which means today's victims of medical malpractice are also victims of the law.

That is why many consumer advocates, the nurses union and other safety advocates (including injury lawyers) are seeking to change the law to account for inflation. They do not believe the Legislature will pass a bill to make these changes, so they plan to take them to the voting public. In September, they will begin to gather the 400,000 signatures they need to get the issue on the ballot in November 2014.

Opponents of the move argue that increasing the noneconomic damages cap would increase medical costs. Proponents counter that there is very little evidence that these caps significantly reduce medical costs, and that victims of medical malpractice end up footing the bill. Should the initiative make it to the ballot and be passed, it would raise the state's damage cap to $1 million and allow for a yearly increase based on inflation.

There is currently no cap on economic damages or punitive damages in California. Economic damages are direct damages that a person suffers as the result of medical negligence, such as medical expenses and income loss. Punitive damages punish medical professionals for "malicious and willful misconduct." Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, look to a victim's (or family's) emotional / psychological suffering. Together, the three types of damages make up a victim's entire damage award.

Source: Los Angeles times, "Battle flares over 38-year-old medical malpractice law," Marc Lifsher, July 14, 2013

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