By Ralph Nader
Governor Jerry Brown and the California State Legislature should immediately move to increase the outdated and cruel cap that severely limits compensation for injuries caused by medical malpractice, negligence or worse. At least ten thousand Californians perish every year, along with many more aggravated injuries and illnesses from reckless medical malpractice, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This toll does not include fatalities and other casualties from hospital-induced infections, reported by the CDC.
Under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), such “non-economic” injuries are capped at $250,000 for each person. This cap for “pain and suffering” was passed in 1975 and has not been adjusted for inflation for 35 years.
Today’s $250,000 in 1975 dollars is worth well under $100,000. This congealed cruelty must be changed by Governor Brown and the California State Legislature.
California’s MICRA law arbitrarily limits the legal rights of seriously-injured victims of incompetent or negligent medical care and makes it difficult to hold negligent doctors and hospitals accountable for their misdeeds.
MICRA also shifts the costs for medical malpractice to taxpayers because the wrongdoers are economically insulated by the cap imposed under this draconian and misguided law. Additionally, MICRA has produced a windfall for the insurance industry and made it harder to apply the deterrent incentives of the tort system to improve medical care in California.
In a little-noticed June 13, 1993 statement, then former Governor Jerry Brown said, “Saddest of all, MICRA has revealed itself to have an arbitrary and cruel effect upon the victims of malpractice. It has not lowered health care costs, only enriched insurers and placed negligent or incompetent physicians outside the reach of judicial accountability. For these reasons, MICRA cannot and should not be a model for national legislation.”
It is way overdue for Governor Brown to do the right thing and urge the legislature to abolish the cap entirely. Even the most modest upgrade would adjust the MICRA to inflation and raise the lifetime cap to about $1 million for each prevailing victim in court.