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Myths Debunked:
Malpractice Caps Are Good For Us



Lacking lawyers, justice is denied

Attorneys often avoid medical malpractice suits because California limits 'pain and suffering' awards to $250,000.
By Daniel Costello, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 29, 2007
... In 1975, California enacted legislation capping malpractice payments after an outcry from doctors and insurers that oversized awards and skyrocketing insurance rates were driving physicians out of the state.

The law limited the amount of money for "pain and suffering" -- usually the physical and emotional stress caused from an injury -- to $250,000. There is no limit on what patients can collect for loss of future wages or other expenses.

Over the years, it has been easy to quantify the effects of the law, known as the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA. In the years since the law was enacted, malpractice premiums in California have risen by just a third of the national average, and doctors say the law now helps attract physicians to the state. Proponents also say it discourages frivolous lawsuits...

Yet a Times analysis of state court records, physician payment data and insurer financial records suggests that the cap is increasingly preventing families such as the Stewarts from getting their day in court.

Among the findings:

* Court malpractice filings have fallen in eight of the 10 most populous counties in California that track such information. In Los Angeles, they're down 48% since 2001 to their lowest per-capita level in nearly four decades. In Orange County, they fell 29% over the same period

* At Kaiser Permanente, where members must resolve malpractice claims in arbitration rather than court, claims have fallen almost 20% since 2001.

* The number of payments to victims and their families across the state was down 24% since 1991, according to a review of a federal government database of nearly half a million claims. Nationally, the decline over the same period was 10%.

* The malpractice earnings of California insurers has far outpaced national averages in recent years. According to financial reports, insurers in the state have paid out just 39 cents of every premium dollar since 1991. The national average was 63 cents.

Proponents of the law attribute the state's recent decline in malpractice lawsuits to several reasons unrelated to its award cap, including a slight drop in overall personal injury cases nationwide and a possible decrease in medical errors in recent years.

Some states have seen larger per-capita declines in malpractice cases than California, after they enacted caps on medical malpractice awards.

A spokesman for Kaiser Permanente said its drop in malpractice filings was the result of a company program begun five years ago in which doctors apologized to patients for errors rather than wait to fight the accusations in court.

Some malpractice victims and their families say the benefits of the law have swung too far in favor of doctors. Without accountability, some ask, what will keep physicians from making careless mistakes?...


And that is exactly the point.  The right wing has worked very successfully to reduce regulation wherever possible and to starve regulatory agencies, keeping us from being protected on the front end.  And now they've been successful in many areas to keep us from being compensated for being hurt through negligence.  As Granny Bee would say, "They're gittin' us a-comin', and they're gittin' us a-goin'".

See also Myths Debunked: Rising Cost of Medical Malpractice Insurance Is Due to High Jury Awards

Carolyn Kay

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Last changed: December 13, 2009