After 47 years, the California legislature has finally passed a modification of the harsh and unfair MICRA law which has plagued California’s medical negligence victims since 1975. This historic accomplishment comes as the result of an unprecedented mobilization of medical negligence survivors in every state senate district in California who negotiated together with a team of dedicated patients’ attorneys including Walkup Melodia partner Douglas Saeltzer.
The qualification of a ballot measure which sought to overhaul the existing statutory structure triggered a series of meetings between the California Medical Association, patient advocates and the Consumer Attorneys of California. The ultimate result was Assembly Bill 35, which the Senate voted on in May and signed by Governor Newsom days after its passage.
MICRA’s 47 year old $250,000 damage cap for harms other than economic out-of-pocket losses will be replaced by new higher damage limitations adjusted upward to reach a maximum of $2.25 million in personal injury cases and $3 million in wrongful death cases over the next 10 years, with an annual cost of living adjustment applied beginning in year 11.
Although medical negligence victims will still be treated differently than other tort claimants, this change is a major step forward for consumers. As Walkup partner Mike Kelly told the Los Angeles Daily Journal, “In 1978 $250,000 was somewhere in the range of reasonable when compared to other types of compensation. But over the past 20 years, cases where families have been awarded millions by juries for the loss of parents, children or spouses only to have those awards cut to $250,000 has generated a lot of animosity both towards the court system by those who have been under compensated, as well as between patients and their health care providers. This change is a positive step forward, and hopefully one day, we will get to a place where there are not different classes of litigants in different kinds of cases.”
The bill alters the existing $250,000 maximum on pain and suffering damages for personal injury by increasing that amount to $350,000, and then over the next 10 years adding a $40,000 increase each January 1st beginning on January 1, 2034, until the maximum cap for pain and suffering against health care provider reaches $750,000. At that point, the cap increases annually by 2% per annum. A similar methodology is used in increasing the damage limit in wrongful death cases. Currently, the maximum amount for loss of care, comfort, society, love and affection is capped at $250,000. That limit is immediately increased by the legislation to $500,000, and is increased each January 1st by $50,000 for 10 years until it reaches $1 million, when it too will be annually increased by a 2% per year cost of living annual increase.
For more than 50 years, the Walkup firm has represented clients harmed as a result of health care providers negligence. We are pleased that our current clients will now be treated more fairly. At the same time, we regret that it took so long for the legislature and governor to right the fundamental unfairness the MICRA laws have created over the last five decades.Walkup-Focus-Proof-13-052422