In November, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear a legal case that challenges the state’s financial cap on payouts for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits. In 1975, California passed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which limited the amount that a court could award for someone’s pain and suffering lawsuit to a maximum amount of $250,000. Raising the cap on pain and suffering awards was on the ballot in the November elections but was rejected by California voters.
Why do medical malpractice caps matter?
The case that has challenged the financial cap of pain and suffering awards is Hughes v. Pham. In this case, a medical doctor is accused of contributing to a patient’s paraplegia by delaying medical treatment following an off-road vehicle accident. A jury awarded pain and suffering damages of $2.75 million, but the amount was reduced to $250,000 under California’s cap.
California enacted that cap as a way to prevent frivolous lawsuits, ensuring that doctors and medical professionals were only brought to trial for legitimate reasons. Additionally, it prevents juries from awarding high payouts for cases that may not warrant it. However, the cap has not been adjusted for inflation and in many cases, $250,000 is not enough to cover medical care. If the cap had been adjusted for inflation, it would currently stand at $1.1 million.
It is argued that the cap violates the laws of equal protection that are established in the Constitution. By limiting the amount that victims of medical malpractice are able to receive, those that have been seriously injured are not able to access the treatment they deserve. The cap also limits the right to a trial by jury, since their ruling on noneconomic damages may not be recognized by the court.
Many states across the nation have determined that medical malpractice caps are unfair and only serve to work against those that have been injured while receiving medical care. While there is no way of telling what the Supreme Court will decide, the trend of overturning medical malpractice caps will get a great boost if this case follows.
Dr. Michael M. Wilson is an attorney and a physician who earned his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his legal and medical degrees from Georgetown University. He has focused in the area of medical malpractice for more than three decades and secured more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients throughout the country. He is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and New York as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is listed in America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.