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Court of Appeals decides appropriate measure for future damages under MICRA



May 18, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Licensing & Regulatory Issues MICRA 

The California Court of Appeal issued an opinion in BC v. Contra Costa County, addressing the issue of determining future medical expense damages, and what evidence the jury is allowed to consider in medical injury cases. The Court of Appeal, reversing the trial court decision in part, issued a ruling consistent with the California Medical Association (CMA) position that the trial court erred in excluding evidence that health insurance benefits would be available to mitigate the plaintiff’s future medical costs. The appeals court agreed with CMA that evidence of certain collateral source benefits available to plaintiffs should be considered when determining future medical expense damages.

In June 2016, CMA, together with the California Dental Association (CDA) and the California Hospital Association (CHA), filed an amicus brief focusing on the importance of this issue and the recurring problem in professional negligence cases of plaintiffs being awarded damages for future economic losses they will never incur because the costs are paid by others. The brief argued that juries should be allowed to consider the collateral source benefits that will be available, such as benefits from health insurance, in order to determine future medical expenses with reasonable certainty. In other words, providing the jury with more information reduces the speculative nature of an award for future medical expenses.

 

In this case, the plaintiffs were awarded $100 million in future medical expenses following the trial court’s ruling that California's Civil Code Section 3333.1, a provision of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), does not allow the introduction of evidence regarding future collateral source medical benefits. The trial court excluded evidence that health insurance benefits would be available to mitigate the plaintiff’s future medical costs. The trial court also rejected the medical provider defendant’s argument that in determining the appropriate measure of future medical expenses, the focus must be on the amount that will actually be owed or paid by the plaintiff to obtain medical care.

 

In reversing the trial court's ruling, the appellate court held that collateral source benefits—including benefits from health insurance—should be considered when calculating damages for future medical expenses. The appellate court also ruled that evidence of the full amount billed by the provider for past medical services cannot support an expert opinion in determining the reasonable value of future medical expenses. It also found that the defendant in medical malpractices cases is permitted to offer evidence of the market-value of future medical benefits.

 

CMA continues to defend MICRA, California’s landmark professional liability reforms, which have been overwhelmingly supported by California’s voters as a way to fairly compensate injured parties while protecting access to care for all Californians. For more information on MICRA, visit our MICRA resource page.

 

Click here to read CMA's brief.

 

Contact: Center for Legal Affairs at legalinfo@cmadocs.org.

 

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