California gets new rules for medical malpractice payments

Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday signed a bill to increase the amount patients can receive in medical malpractice cases, increasing payments for pain and suffering for the first time since lawmakers capped damages. nearly five decades ago.

The governor’s signature on Assembly Bill 35 was the latest step in a process that began last month when rival interest groups – doctors and lawyers – announced a deal to avoid a costly battle for ballots in November to revise the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975, known as MICRA.

“After decades of negotiations, lawmakers, patient groups and healthcare professionals have reached a consensus that protects patients and the stability of our healthcare system,” Newsom said in a written statement Monday.

The law has not changed for 47 years

Then-Governor. Jerry Brown signed the MICRA Act into law in 1975 amid fears that doctors would retire or leave California due to rising insurance premiums, attributed to large malpractice awards. Under the law, the state caps pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases at $250,000, regardless of how many health care providers are found negligent.

There is no cap on the amount that can be awarded to patients for damages directly related to medical bills and economic losses, such as loss of income. Critics argue that the 47-year cap on pain and suffering severely limits the amount injured children, retirees and stay-at-home parents can receive while discouraging lawyers from taking on complex cases.

If the MICRA rules limiting compensation for pain and suffering had been adjusted annually for inflation, the cap would now be $1.3 million. Instead, it stayed at $250,000.

Greater rewards for pain and suffering after January 1

Under AB 35, the amount patients can receive for pain and suffering will increase to $350,000 starting January 1. This amount will gradually increase over a period of 10 years to reach $750,000. In cases involving the death of a patient, the cap on pain and suffering awards will increase to $500,000 on January 1, then increase to $1 million over the next decade.

After a decade of increases, the cap would be adjusted annually by 2%.

Additionally, a patient would be eligible for up to three payments in lawsuits involving multiple doctors, nurses or hospitals. There will be limits to how these separate payments can be applied, with one pot of money to cover the negligence of a doctor or nurse and another for that of a hospital. A third payment will be allowed for pain and suffering in rare cases involving a separate, unaffiliated vendor, bringing the potential total amount to $1.5 million.

Who will benefit?

The new provisions only apply to cases filed after January 1 and do not apply to past or pending cases.

“Because it will help other families, it’s a win,” said Charles Johnson, who sued for wrongful death after his wife died hours after giving birth in 2016.

“It would be great if it benefited our case, but on this trip I’ve met so many families who have faced horrible things and now they won’t be turned away, they will be represented,” Johnson said. “It comforts me.”

How the deal came about

California will now avoid what would otherwise have been a deadly and costly political fight. Supporters have highlighted stories of doctor misconduct and medical errors that have had serious, even fatal, consequences as they advocate for increased malpractice compensation for injured patients. A documentary featuring several California cases is set to premiere next month at a Los Angeles film festival.

At the same time, the state medical board has come under fire for lax penalties for doctors who have been repeatedly found to be negligent in their care. Last year, The Times found that the Medical Board of California had consistently allowed doctors accused of negligence to continue practicing and harming patients, sometimes leaving them dead, paralyzed, brain damaged or missing limbs.

A Times investigation in December found that since 2013, the Medical Board of California has reinstated 10 doctors who lost their licenses for sexual misconduct. Among them, two doctors abused teenage girls and another beat two female patients when they reported him for sexually exploiting them.

However, the measure had a difficult political path to travel.

Nick Rowley, a wealthy general counsel who funded efforts to collect voter signatures to put a measure on the ballot, has pledged to spend whatever it takes to raise California’s malpractice cap. Proponents objected to deep-pocketed hospital, insurance and physician groups who argued that insurance premiums would skyrocket without “the essential safeguards of MICRA,” forcing healthcare providers to health to close their doors.

The measure scrapped by last month’s deal would have been the second attempt to convince voters, who overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 46 in 2014. Opponents raised $60 million in the effort and the measure in this year’s ballot also headed for an unbalanced campaign spending war before the compromise. .

“Finding a compromise on something so important on all sides required stakeholders to think about the greatest good for their respective members and for the community as a whole,” said MP Eloise Gómez Reyes. (D-Grand Terrace), who was the author of the bill. “For at least a decade, we don’t have to revisit this. We can focus on other business that needs to be done for California.

Los Angeles Times

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