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Medical malpractice cap fight: gloves off in one state

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2014 | Doctor Errors

Tort reform is always a subject of core concern in the medical industry, and that is well illustrated by events currently unfolding in California. Proponents and critics in that state have squared off in a hot debate that promises to remain impassioned throughout the year and leading up to a ballot initiative this upcoming November.

Because the arguments being advanced on both sides of that debate are certainly relevant across the country, including in New Jersey, we summarize what’s going on in California and what it fundamentally means in the realm of medical malpractice.

The core of contention centers on that state’s $250,000 statutory ceiling applicable to a portion of recoveries collectible by plaintiffs injured by doctors’ errors and other medical mistakes.

That limit applies to so-called “noneconomic” damages, most closely associated with physical pain and mental anguish. California’s imposed ceiling was instituted almost 40 years ago and never tied to rises in inflation.

As a result, a maximum recovery in 2014 is actually worth far less in real dollars than it was four decades ago, and this gutting of real value has inspired the wrath of critics, who seek an upward adjustment.

They are being met with strong resistance from doctors’ groups and other proponents of the current law, who say that raising the ceiling will bring about spiraling costs and curbed patient services.

Critics don’t see it that way. An oft-advanced critique of California’s limiting caps is that they render it exceedingly difficult for many persons harmed by medical negligence to gain courtroom access, given that there is simply not enough money to pay for witnesses, court costs and other litigation-related necessities.

As a result, say those favoring change, egregious medical behavior goes unpunished, with medical mistakes being repeatedly made by bad doctors.

The medical malpractice battle in California promises to be shrill and unrelenting this year, right up until voters act late this autumn upon the ballot initiative focused on an inflation-pegged cap adjustment.

We will stay abreast of key developments in this story.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Compromise unlikely in fight over medical malpractice cap,” George Skelton, March 5, 2014

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