Landmark California med-mal law survives legal challenge

Chris Rizo Aug. 13, 2009, 1:45pm

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-The California medical malpractice law that limits noneconomic damages to $250,000 has survived legal challenge.

On Thursday, the state's Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the 34-year-old law, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act.

A 5th District Court of Appeal ruling found that the law is not unconstitutional. In not accepting the case, the high court essentially affirmed the appeals court decision.

James Van Buren alleged in a Merced County case that the so-called MICRA law violates his constitutional rights because, among other things, the $250,000 cap set in 1975 does not have the same buying power today as it did then.

He had sued Dr. Sian Evans and Yosemite Surgery Associates, claiming that they had gone against the standard of medical care when treating his perianal cyst.

After the five-day trial, a jury agreed and awarded Van Buren $2.5 million in noneconomic damages. No economic damages were awarded.

The noneconomic damages award was reduced by Merced County Superior Court Judge Ronald Hansen to $250,000 so it was in accordance with the MICRA law. In May, the three-judge appeals court panel agreed the trial judge appropriately slashed the award.

"The noneconomic damages limitation of section 3333.2 was enacted to address 'serious problems for the health care system in California,' not to promote settlement of litigation," the appeals panel said.

Aimed at keeping doctor's medical malpractice insurance premiums in check, MICRA was passed by the California Legislature in 1975, and was signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who currently serves as the state's attorney general. He is a Democrat.

California's major tort reform group hailed the Supreme Court's move Thursday.

"For more than three decades, MICRA has stabilized medical malpractice insurance costs, secured access to physicians and hospitals, and given people a fair way to settle their claims," said John Sullivan, president of the Civil Justice Association of California.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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