Sustainability

Medical liability damages cap upheld

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The nation’s leading medical liability reform law has been upheld yet again in a California court of appeal, with the court finding that the state’s cap on noneconomic damages is constitutional. It’s another victory to ensure physicians can afford to stay in practice and continue to provide care to the patients in their communities.

In Chan v. Curran, the plaintiff attempted to prove that the non-economic damages cap under Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), California’s historic tort reform law, should be struck down. The cap is set at $250,000.

The plaintiff claimed the MICRA cap was unconstitutional for a few reasons:

  • MICRA was put in place to tamp down California’s medical liability insurance crisis in the 1970s, but times have changed and the crisis no longer exists. The court rejected this argument, noting that the Supreme Court of the United States rejected a similar argument.
  • The noneconomic damages cap discourages attorneys from taking cases on contingency, so it limits access to the courts. The court held that parties in civil cases are not guaranteed the right to counsel.
  • MICRA interferes with the right to jury trial. The court rejected this argument based on previous cases that held the same.

“All of [Chan’s] arguments … are ultimately grounded on the assertion she is entitled to seek noneconomic damages sufficient to cover attorney fees,” the court said in its opinion. “No California court has ever endorsed such a proposition … it is contrary to many well-established legal principles.”

The Litigation Center of the AMA and State Medical Societies, along with the California Medical Association, California Hospital Association and California Dental Association, backed the defense of MICRA and filed an amicus brief (log in) last year.

“The noneconomic damages cap … is rationally related to the legitimate state interest of ensuring access to affordable health care,” the brief said. “The importance of MICRA has by no means waned over time.”

Visit the AMA Litigation Center’s Web page to learn more about this case and others related to professional liability and tort reform.