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Understanding MICRA & Medical Malpractice Settlements

In 1975, the California Legislature enacted a set of laws known as the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (commonly referred to as “MICRA”). What this set of laws does, in essence, is protect doctors, hospitals and other health care providers (and their insurance companies) from lawsuits brought by their injured patients. The problem is that these laws which apply only to doctors and the other healthcare providers – and their insurance companies – come at a high cost: “MICRA” severely and unfairly restricts the amount of verdicts and settlements that injured patients are allowed to recover.

These laws, which gained publicity in a recent Los Angeles Times article, limit the amount of money an injured patient can be awarded in a medical malpractice case for noneconomic damages to $250,000. Unfortunately, this limit that was enacted in 1975 has never changed. As noted by the article, if one adjusts for inflation, $250,000 in 1975 is approximate to $1.1 million today, yet settlements remain capped at the 1975 figure.  In other words: if measured in 2013—inflated dollars, this $250,000 “cap” equals about $58,000.

Too often our firm has seen these laws deny worthy injured patients deserved medical malpractice settlements.  Under MICRA, it is not unusual for a jury to award a multi-million dollar verdict, only to have it reduced to a fraction, regardless of the plaintiff’s family size, needs, or the number of health care providers who have made mistakes which then cause a death or other catastrophic result.

One such case occurred in 2005 when due to inadequate monitoring and a complete lack of proper evaluation by a doctor at the hospital, Holly Stinnett lost her husband Stan after a fairly routine motorcycle accident. In 2008, a Stanislaus County jury awarded our client $6,000,000 in noneconomic damages only to have the trial reduce the verdict to $250,000 as a result of MICRA.

The jury awarded this amount for the emotional and human loss of a loved one’s companionship, comfort, society and emotional support in the wrongful death of her husband but it was denied by MICRA. With the support of nurses organizations and consumer rights organizations such as Consumer Watchdog, our firm challenged this law in front of a state appellate court.  Regrettably, the courts are reluctant to change these laws (as was this Court in 2011) now that they have been in effect for nearly four decades – and the powerful medical malpractice insurance industry vigorously opposes any changes, as they did in Holly’s case.  Why? They are making record profits since the laws allow them to pay less than a jury decides the claim is worth

Tabak Law Firm has been working for decades to challenge (and overturn) this unjust set of laws that harm the innocent and protect the ones causing injuries through medical malpractice. Although Tabak Law Firm has pursued cases to the California Supreme Court, this set of laws remains on the books.

A new challenge to these biased and antiquated laws – this time via the initiative process – is looming on the horizon.  Certain to oppose these measures are insurance companies, the main proponents and benefactors of these laws.

About Stew Tabak

Stew Tabak is the sole practitioner of Tabak Law Firm. He has been advocating compassionately and aggressively on behalf of injured plaintiffs throughout California since 1979. He is also a regular speaker at legal seminars discussing wrongful death, medical malpractice, civil discovery and jury trial practice among other topics.

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