A proposition to increase California’s medical malpractice cap may have failed in the recent elections, but the debate surrounding state’s $250,000 non-economic damages cap continues. In response to a recent malpractice case in the state where the plaintiff saw his non-economic damages reward severely constrained by the cap, Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit organization which advocates for taxpayer and consumer interests, wrote a letter to the state’s Supreme Court asking that it examine the constitutionality of the nearly 40-year-old cap.
The plaintiff in the case, Trent Hughes, sustained injuries from an all-terrain vehicle accident. Unfortunately, these injuries worsened and were made permanent as a result of "the physician’s delay in treatment [which] allowed Hughes’ injury to progress to a complete spinal cord injury. Tent Hughes lost sensation and motor function, sexual function, and bowel and bladder function."
The jury found in favor of Hughes, and awarded $2,750,000 in non-economic damages. However, these damages were capped at $250,000, which has been the state’s non-economic damages cap since 1975. Hughes lost nearly 90% of the original non-economic damages award as a result of the cap.
Consumer Watchdog has asked the state’s Supreme Court to examine the ruling of the appellate court, stating that "the opinion of the appellate court will leave million of Californians and their families who have suffered from medical negligence without fair compensation despite overwhelming evidence that [the cap] lacks any rational basis under circumstances existing today." The group noted that while the cap was originally intended to lower malpractice insurance rates for doctors, it failed to so, and rates continued to increase until passage of Proposition 103 in 1988 which regulated insurance rates. Since then rates have steadily decreased in California, yet the cap remains in place.