Starting January 1, 2023, California Assembly Bill 35 will increase the maximum awards a patient or decedent’s family can receive for non-economic damages in a California medical malpractice case, modernizing the MICRA law of 1975. The new law will better preserve the health care system, protect the rights of injured patients, and alleviate concerns about systematic negligence in the industry.
For cases filed after January 1, 2023, California Assembly Bill 35 will raise the amount patients can be awarded for pain and suffering - or non-economic damages - in medical malpractice cases. Non-economic damages specifically apply to compensation for subjective, non-monetary losses that are specific to the life or lifestyle of the victim. To understand how Assembly Bill 35 can impact your case, it is best to talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
Changes In Effect January 1, 2023
- While there is still no cap on how much patients can be awarded for damages directly related to medical bills and economic losses, under the updated law AB 35, beginning January 1, 2023, patients will be entitled to a higher payout for non-economic medical malpractice damages with a cap of $350,000, that will continue to increase over the next decade, eventually rising to $750,000.
- In the event the patient's claim involves wrongful death, the new cap on pain and suffering awards will increase to $500,000 on January 1, 2023, reaching $1 million over the next ten years.
- Once the 10-year window has passed, the medical malpractice damages cap will be granted a 2% annual increase.
- In cases involving multiple defendants, the victim or decedent would be eligible to receive up to three payments dependent on role and affiliation - doctor, hospital organization, or a third-party provider. The potential maximum payout would then be $1.5 million.
- The law adds a new chapter to the Health and Safety Code to protect discovery and evidence including expressions of sympathy, regret, or benevolence, as well as statements of fault made prior to the filing of a lawsuit or demand for arbitration.
A Modernized Bill
While a victim can seek compensation for injury or death caused by medical malpractice, California’s strict laws have limited these awards for pain and suffering, forcing patients to pay any remaining costs out of pocket. Since 1975, the California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) created one of the lowest caps nationwide for medical malpractice cases, limiting victims’ non-economic awards to $250,000 regardless of how many doctors or healthcare institutions were found to be negligent. This cap did not account for rising medical costs and inflation, which ultimately did not afford victims of medical malpractice closure, peace of mind, and justice for the pain they endure.
Over the last decade, pro-patient groups and legislators have pushed for changes to this cap as well as increased accountability for doctors and institutions accused of malpractice. The campaign for the AB 35 ballot initiative began in 2019, led by the Fairness for Injured Patients Act Coalition, and supported by Former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, and Trial Lawyers for Justice, among other individuals and groups.
California Assembly Bill 35, which was signed into effect in May 2022 by Governor Gavin Newsom, adjusts the maximum awards a patient or decedent can receive for non-economic damages in a California medical malpractice case, accounting for rising medical costs and the victim’s best interests.
In addition to adjusting maximum awards for medical malpractice victims, the bill addresses concerns to regulate doctors and institutions who have had malpractice cases brought against them. In recent years, California has come under fire for slack punishments for doctors who were accused or found guilty of malpractice, misconduct, and negligence. An analysis of records found that the California State Medical Board allowed doctors and other practitioners accused of malpractice to continue practicing medicine, resulting in additional patient injuries, paralysis, and deaths. The adoption of Assembly Bill 35 creates added accountability for those in the medical profession.
Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes said in a press release,
“AB 35 provides a better system for both providers and patients, creating a fair process that will have a real impact on Californians for decades to come.”
What is a Damages Cap?
A damages cap is a state law that limits the amount of financial compensation - also referred to as damages - that a victim of personal injury can receive either through a settlement or a jury trial.
While most states do not place caps on economic damages, many states do limit the maximum payout a medical malpractice victim can receive for non-economic damages. Economic damages account for any costs or financial losses that can and will be incurred due to injury or death including hospital bills, prescriptions, and emergency medical support. Non-economic damages can be much more challenging to measure and account for emotional traumas, bodily scarring or disfigurement, and pain and suffering.
How We Can Help
Medical malpractice cases are notoriously challenging to unravel and changing laws only add to the complexities of these cases and already difficult situations for victims. If you believe that you or a family member has been the victim of medical negligence or malpractice do not hesitate to contact a reliable medical malpractice attorney right away.
Our experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Bostwick & Peterson can help you navigate the complexities of your case and help you recover the maximum possible damages. Contact us today for a free consultation of your case.