California pain and suffering cap in medical malpractice lawsuits

For the past 34 years, California has had a cap on the amount of non-economic damages that an injured person may recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Under the current law in California, if a doctor is supposed to repair a knee injury but amputates the leg due to being drunk, for example, the maximum amount of non-economic damages (pain and suffering) that can be recovered in a personal injury case is $250,000.00. If that person’s one passion in life was dancing, and a jury awards $500,000.00 in non-economic damages, the award gets reduced to $250,000.00. If that person had jogged every day to alleviate stress, keep their weight down and maintain a healthy heart rate, and a jury awards $650,000.00 in non-economic damages, the award gets reduced to $250,000.00. It is absurd to think that the value of $250,000.00 in 1975 is anywhere close to the value that same amount represents today, which essentially means that the maximum an injured person can recover, has steadily gone down in the State of California.

The cap on medical malpractice lawsuits was supposed to help both consumers and doctors by keeping insurance premiums from rising, which the insurance industry likes to blame on lawyers, juries, and our civil judicial system, in general. It is more than doubtful that health care premiums, as well as medical malpractice premiums for doctors, have consistently risen in California, despite this cap in medical malpractice lawsuits.

The constitutionality of the law that caps these damages was recently upheld in a California Court of Appeal decision, and the California Supreme Court refused to review the decision, which means that the cap will remain in place. The insurance industry is very powerful, has tremendous resources and influence, which is important to take into consideration whenever it sends out its claims of “tort reform” and “lawsuit abuse” in our system.

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