Limits On Medical Malpractice Recoveries Increased
Since 1975 California has had a $250,000 limit on “pain and suffering,” also known as general damages, in malpractice cases. There has been no increase due to inflation. There have been several attempts to change the limits, but finally one succeeded – Assembly Bill 35. As of January 1, 2023, the limit is increased to $350,000 for malpractice injury cases, and $500,000 for malpractice death cases. There will be annual $40,000 and $50,000 increases after that, until the limits reach $750,000 for injury, and $1,000,000 for loss of life. After that, there will be 2% annual increases.
There have never been limits on “economic damages,” loss of earnings, medical and other care expenses, etc. But it has been very hard all of these years for clients to hear that they can only get $250,000 for the loss of a limb, or even a life of a loved one. The same harm caused by another means could result in an award or settlement into millions of dollars.
But perhaps even more important than the cap increase starting in 2023 is the new law’s provisions that the caps can be combined in certain cases, potentially doubling or even tripling what a victim can recover. The cases eligible for the multiple caps are those with multiple defendants—such as a doctor and a hospital. There are many unclear aspects of how the new law will be applied. It seems that, in order to make a compromise all sides could live with, certain provisions were deliberately left vague. So, there will likely be a number of appeals taken, the results of which will give guidance for the application of the law to future cases.
The new law will also loosen up limits on lawyers’ fees. While at first this may not sound beneficial for victims, it actually is. The doctors’ insurance companies were the ones who wanted the limits on fees. Notably, the old rules only limited what the victims could pay their lawyers, not the doctors, hospitals, and their insurance companies. The very restrictive limits on both fees and recoveries discouraged many lawyers from engaging in malpractice litigation for victims, and discouraged those who did from taking cases that did not have large economic damages. As a result, when malpractice caused the death of a retired or other non-earning person, their family members frequently had great difficulty finding a lawyer.
These changes in the law are likely to bring many more lawyers into medical malpractice work for victims. Finally, there has been a major step towards greater justice in this very challenging practice area.
Boone Callaway is a personal injury & medical malpractice lawyer in San Francisco who has been working with clients in the Bay Area for over 25 years. Mr. Callaway is one of only a few personal injury litigators in San Francisco who is a Super Lawyer, AV Rated and is also a member of ABOTA – American Board of Trial Advocates.