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Californians Contemplate Reforming Medical Malpractice Caps

Under the law, patients may seek rightful compensation from physicians, healthcare facilities and other licensed providers who cause them harm due to failure to uphold a certain standard of care. This breach of professional duty is commonly referred to asmedical malpractice. When physicians and others held to certain standards of care under the law harm patients as a result of their failures, patients can suffer devastating injuries, illnesses and even death. Medical malpractice awards are meant to help right the harm done to patients in a financial sense.

For better and worse, California has instituted caps on the medical malpractice awards that patients may receive after being harmed by medical professionals. One cap that California lawmakers have embraced is a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering awards. Many believe that this cap is far too low. When a family member dies or a patient becomes paralyzed or otherwise is forced to suffer through lifelong, chronic pain as a result of a physician’s negligence, $250,000 seems like a paltry amount of compensation.

As a result of this understandable opposition to the pain and suffering cap that is currently California law, a consumer watchdog group is pursing a measure to be included on the next election day ballot. The measure would increase this particular cap from $250,000 to $1.1 million. Opponents of the measure are concerned that such an increase would cause medical costs to skyrocket.

Studies indicate that major medical malpractice awards represent a tiny fraction of medical costs and that eliminating or reducing award caps will have little practical impact on patient costs and on the healthcare system as a whole. Hopefully the measure will make it onto the ballot and California voters will do their research on this issue before going to the polls.

Source: Insurance Journal, “Groups Attack Watchdog Effort to Raise Medical Malpractice Bar in California,” Don Jergler, July 26, 2013