By Brian S. Kabateck '89, Guest Alumni Blogger
Most lawyers don't know that in 1975 Governor Brown signed a law that radically changed medical malpractice litigation in California. That law, known as MICRA (Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act), was born in a time when most doctors were in private practice and the insurance industry was largely uncontrolled and financially crushing doctors by boosting malpractice premiums. Among other reforms, MICRA capped any pain and suffering award at $250,000. In the 38 years since MICRA became law, there has been no change whatsoever in the $250,000 cap - and during the same timeframe, inflation has dramatically affected the value of $250,000. In fact, if you apply a basic cost of living factor for inflation, that same $250,000 would now approach approximately $1.1 million. While under MICRA there is no artificial cap on economic losses such as medical care, life care and lost earning, its $250,000 cap on non-economic damages intended to offset the real costs of human suffering creates an unfair situation in cases involving the loss of a child, a non-income earning spouse or a retired person. Quite simply, the life of a child lost because of medical error is only worth $250,000 in California. Outrageous!
Consider also that the entire practice of medicine has changed in the last 38 years. Most Californians who are insured get their medical care though managed care like an HMO or Kaiser. Gone are the days when private practitioners where the norm. Many patients feel like doctors are restricted in making decisions by administrators and other people who are not doctors but are often making the decisions for them. Patient safety is a serious concern in the United States today. It is estimated that more than 300,000 people die every year from medical errors. To put that number into context, medical errors are the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. It's the equivalent of two full 747s crashing every day. In California, an estimated 37,500 people die from medical errors every year. Meanwhile, doctors have a more lenient discipline system than lawyers; many doctors go unchecked while wrestling with addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. The media seem to be reporting stories every day of serious medical errors and negligence. Michael Jackson is the most famous victim of medical negligence.