California ups cap on medical malpractice awards, 1st change to law in 47 years

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill May 23 that will raise the cap on the amount patients can receive in pain and suffering payments as part of medical malpractice cases, marking the first change to the limitation since the legislation was enacted in 1975.

Under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975, California caps pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases at $250,000 regardless of how many healthcare providers are found negligent, the Los Angeles Times reports. If the cap had been adjusted annually for inflation, it would now be $1.3 million.

Under Assembly Bill 35, the amount patients can be awarded for pain and suffering will increase to $350,000, effective for cases filed on or after Jan. 1. That amount will incrementally increase over a 10-year period to $750,000. In cases involving a patient's death, the cap on pain and suffering awards rises to $500,000 on Jan. 1, increasing to $1 million over the next decade.

After 10 years of increases, the cap will be annually adjusted by 2 percent. 

The new legislation also means a patient is eligible for up to three payments in lawsuits involving multiple physicians, nurses or hospitals. One payment would be linked to a doctor or nurse's negligence, another for that of a hospital, and a third payment will be permitted for pain and suffering in rare cases involving a separate, unaffiliated provider, which brings the potential total award to $1.5 million.

Mr. Newsom's signature on AB 35 averts a ballot measure set for November to overhaul MICRA.


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