Threat to medical malpractice liability cap surfaces

The long-anticipated showdown over medical malpractice liability for medical providers may be fast approaching, with the announcement last month by a coalition of trial attorney and consumer advocates of a multi-pronged legislative and ballot initiative campaign, which could culminate in the November 2014 election.

Since 1974, when a medical malpractice insurance crisis in California led to the passage of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), health care providers, including dentists, have been protected from extreme liability exposure and skyrocketing premiums by its various provisions, the most important (and controversial) of which has been the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damage awards.  

“MICRA has been instrumental in keeping professional liability insurance premiums stable for more than 30 years,” said Dennis De Tomasi, DDS, chair of The Dentists Insurance Company (TDIC) Board of Directors.  “By limiting the ability for trial attorneys to obtain outrageous noneconomic damage awards for their clients, and thus for themselves as well, the MICRA cap has helped to protect access to care by keeping a lid on providers’ liability costs and insurance premiums while still assuring that patients can be fully compensated for legitimate harm.”

At a May 2 news conference at the State Capitol, the Consumer Watchdog organization and the Troy and Alana Pack Foundation announced that, barring legislative action this year, they will be gathering signatures for a November 2014 ballot initiative.  While they did not provide exact details, they indicated that it could include repealing or modifying the MICRA noneconomic damages cap, transferring the Medical Board of California’s  investigation and enforcement authority to the Attorney General, and funding the CURES prescription drug monitoring program while requiring periodic drug and alcohol testing for “doctors” (yet to be defined).  

“While no MICRA legislation has surfaced yet, the trial attorneys clearly are using the threat of a ballot initiative to coerce the legislature into action this year,” said CDA President Lindsey Robinson, DDS.  “We will be working closely with our Californians Allied for Patient Protection (CAPP) coalition partners to monitor and respond quickly to any legislative effort while at the same time mobilizing our resources for any possible initiative campaign next year.  We will keep our members informed and engaged as events unfold.”