Health: Medical Malpractice

The Story:

An initiative has qualified for the ballot in California in 2022 that, if it becomes law, would adjust for inflation a cap on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. This cap has been in place for 46 years.  Defenders say that it has kept malpractice insurance affordable. But critics of the cap, in its unadjusted form, say that it has deprived injured patients of justice.


“Medical malpractice” is a catch-all name for missteps in the practice of medicine that can worsen the medical condition of the patient, and at worst can become the cause of death. In most professional contexts, doctors carry insurance against such liability. The 1970s saw a great deal of angst and controversy over what was seen as an unreasonable spike in these insurance rates, blamed (depending on who you asked) on unscrupulous plaintiffs’ attorneys, lying insurance companies, or poorly managed hospitals. The damages cap enacted in California in 1975 was part of a wave of reform legislation in many states.

In Pill Form:

Torts (the branch of law that allows private lawsuits for recovery for non-contractual injuries) is a source of recurring controversies and reform. Medical malpractice is only one very visible part of this nest of issues. What we can say for certain is that one generation’s vital reform is for the next generation going to be that-which-needs-reform.

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