Skip to Content

Does California Have a Damages Cap in Personal Injury Cases?

stethoscope and gavel

Many of our blog posts have featured discussions on civil justice, as well as efforts from powerful corporations that lobby politicians and lawmakers to pass laws that allow them to profit at the expense of real people. Many of these laws target the civil justice system directly by limiting the rights of Americans who seek redress through civil lawsuits – including personal injury lawsuits like the ones we handle daily at Biren Law Group. Most notably, their efforts center around tort reform and damages caps.

A term used by corporate powers with financial interests in paying victims less than they deserve, tort reform has become a major topic of debate in recent years. Driven by rhetoric that claims civil lawsuits have become frivolous, tort reform often targets innocent victims who suffer injuries and losses due to the negligent, wrongful, and profit-driven motivations of corporations, including product manufacturers, insurance companies, commercial trucking operators, and other businesses that make money off consumers – and which are traditionally held liable for damages those consumers suffer.

Unfortunately, the flood of money into U.S. politics has resulted in many states passing tort reform initiatives that slash victims’ rights and their ability to recover the compensation they need and deserve. In particular, many of these laws place caps on the amount of damages victims and families are able to recover in certain lawsuits. These caps essentially limit victims’ damages to an arbitrary sum, regardless of how much they have suffered.

Today, most U.S. states place some type of cap on damages recoverable in medical malpractice and personal injury cases. Usually, they cap non-economic damages, or the types of non-financial losses suffered by victims, including their pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of quality of life, and other emotional injuries. Although California is a progressive state where lawmakers have fought against damages caps (and where most personal injury cases are NOT subject to damages caps), there are still laws that either limit recoverable damages in certain cases, or which impact the ability of injured plaintiffs to recover certain damages. Examples include:

  • Medical malpractice – Like the majority of states, California does impose a limit on non-economic damages caps in medical malpractice cases. In cases where medical negligence causes preventable injury, non-economic damages are capped at $250,000. This cap was established by the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which was passed in 1975 and has never been adjusted for inflation and rising medical costs.
  • Uninsured drivers – Because California law requires all motorists to carry auto insurance, it also bars uninsured and even uninsured motorists from recovering their non-economic damages in car accident injury cases against at-fault drivers – even if the other driver is fully insured. However, there may be exceptions to this law, such as in drunk driving accidents when the at-fault motorist was driving under the influence and is convicted of DUI in connection to the accident. In DUI accidents, even uninsured motorists are entitled to a recovery of their non-economic damages when caused by such an egregious disregard for the safety of others.

While it may be reasonable to bar individuals convicted of felonies from recovering damages in connection to those crimes (as most states do), caps that affect innocent victims harmed through no fault of their own are simply inexcusable. Damages caps are a product of “tort reform” initiatives waged by powerful corporations, health care providers, and insurance companies that have financial interests in limiting the amount of money they pay victims – including victims harmed by their negligent and wrongful conduct, or the negligence of their policyholders. These corporate powers care more about profits than they do people – and it is clear from their misleading rhetoric, aggressive lobbying, and continued injection of exorbitant amounts of money into American politics that they will go to great lengths to pay victims as little as possible.

The impact of those profit-motivated efforts is a tremendous injustice for thousands of seriously injured victims and families who exercise their right to bring civil lawsuits against the parties who’ve caused them preventable harm, and who are all too often deprived of adequate compensation – especially compensation for non-economic damages and emotional injuries, which are often the most profound and persistent form of suffering they endure. Damages caps take decision-making power over damages awards away from real people who comprise our juries and understand the extreme losses suffered by victims – and place that power in the hands of corporations instead.

If there is any consolation to existing laws that cap victims’ damages in medical malpractice and other injury cases, it is that they are being increasingly targeted as unfair, criticized, and even struck down. In very recent months, many states have begun to act on arguments raised by victims’ advocates, and have issued landmark decisions (such as in Florida) where certain damages caps have been struck down. According to the courts handling these cases, caps are viewed as unconstitutional, and they unfairly limit the rights of victims who suffer the most severe injuries and harms.

While California may have a more progressive stance when it comes to damages caps, there are still numerous efforts to pass tort reform initiatives that include capping damages and limiting victims’ rights – both at the state and federal level. For example, the aptly named “Protecting Access to Care Act” being considered by Congress would place a non-economic damages cap on all medical malpractice and nursing home injury cases nationwide. Fighting this type of legislation requires increased awareness, advocacy, and outspoken voices of victims and voters.

Help in Your Fight for Justice & Compensation

Whether there are damages caps or not, any victim can face challenges in recovering what they rightfully deserve after being harmed by negligent and wrongful acts. That’s largely due to corporations and insurance companies that fight to pay victims as little as they can, or nothing at all. To level the playing field with these corporate powers, and ensure you have the support and advocacy you need to secure justice and full compensation in your case, you can work with experienced personal injury lawyers like those at Biren Law Group.

Our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys have spent decades fighting on behalf of the injured and the wronged, and working against insurance companies and defendants that do all they can to pay as little as possible. If you would like more information about our team and how we can help you fight back in your personal injury case, contact us for a FREE consultation.