Recently the California First Appellate District Court in San Francisco upheld a trial court’s decision to cap noneconomic damages in a medical professional negligence case at $250,000, as required under California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). Consistent with the position advocated by the California Medical Association (CMA) in its amicus brief, the Court of Appeal rejected each of plaintiffs’ theories attacking MICRA’s constitutionality.

In this case, Gavello v. Millman, M.D., the jury awarded the plaintiffs $2.9 million for lost wages and $1 million for pain and suffering (noneconomic damages). In accordance with MICRA’S noneconomic damages provision, the court adjusted the $1 million dollar award to $250,000 and then apportioned the award to reflect the jury’s finding that the physician was 20 percent responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiffs appealed, asserting that MICRA's cap on noneconomic damages violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution and their right to a jury trial.

CMA's amicus brief emphasized the constitutionality and importance of MICRA's cap on noneconomic damages. It explained that "[t]he Supreme Court and Court of Appeal have held repeatedly that MICRA generally and Section 3333.2 specifically are rationally related to legitimate state interests," and that the plaintiffs arguments do not change that analysis or provide any legitimate basis to question the constitutionality of MICRA. The Court of Appeal affirmed this position.

This case is just the latest in many legal challenges to MICRA that have been funded by trial lawyer groups from across the country. MICRA’s overall statutory scheme, which includes the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages, has proven to be an effective way of limiting meritless lawsuits and keeping health care costs lower for all Californians. Trial lawyers, however, have continually targeted the noneconomic damages cap because it reduces the amount of money they can collect in attorney’s fees.

As expected, the trial lawyers have filed an anti-MICRA initiative that would increase MICRA’s cap on non-economic damages from $250,000 up to $1.2 million. This would have a crippling effect and more than double the cost of medical malpractice insurance for physicians, rob safety net providers of millions of dollars currently spent to care for low-income and uninsured patients, and threaten the ability of high-risk specialists to remain in practice. Physicians are encouraged to support the effort to defend MICRA by becoming a member, donating to CalPAC, and urging medical staffs to donate to the effort.

Click here for more information on MICRA, including the latest developments and how you can help.