When you sue a doctor, hospital, or other medical care provider there are two types or categories of monetary compensation, or “damages,” available to you: economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages refers to specific and identifiable sums of money that you have lost such as medical bills, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, and other economically quantifiable damages. Noneconomic damages refers to other damages, such as pain and suffering and loss of companionship.
In California, there is a cap on the amount of the pain and suffering damages award that you can obtain against a medical provider in a medical malpractice (med mal) case. The cap was created in 1975 with the enactment of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which has been codified into the California Civil Code at Section 3333.2. The MICRA came about as the result of the efforts of insurance companies and benefits doctors and insurance companies by limiting their liability for malpractice. While advocates for injured victims are fighting to increase the cap on noneconomic damages in med mal cases, the cap has remained since its inception in 1975 as the result of strong lobbying by insurance companies.
So how does the cap on noneconomic damages affect your personal injury claim? It doesn’t limit the amount of your medical bills that your personal injury attorney can recover for you. It doesn’t limit the amount of your lost wages or loss of future earning capacity that your personal injury lawyer can recover for you. What it limits is the amount of monetary compensation that you can obtain for pain and suffering as well as other noneconomic damages, such as compensation for inconvenience, physical impairment, and disfigurement.
An exception exists to the cap such that if you are suing more than one doctor, hospital, or health care provider, you can obtain damages for your pain and your suffering up to the cap amount against each doctor, hospital, or health care provider, provided that you separate the court trials into separate trials against each doctor, hospital or other medical provider. There must be separate trials, which will require the consent of the Court. Splitting trials will significantly increase the costs of litigation, so the benefits must be weighed against the increased trial costs.