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Study Shows Noneconomic Damage Caps of $250,000 Reduce Individual Malpractice Payments--But Higher Caps Do Not 


Bethesda, MD—With the 2014 election weeks away, a provision of California's Proposition 46, raising the cap on medical malpractice payments for noneconomic damages, has been in the news. This provision would increase the payment cap from $250,000 to $1.1 million. A new study, being released today by Health Affairs as a Web First, sheds light on the potential effect of this proposition. The study looked at the impact of medical malpractice reforms on the average size of malpractice payments in several physician specialties and compared how the effects differed according to the size of the cap. It found that caps reduced the average payments by 15 percent compared to no cap--and a $250,000 cap reduced average payments by 20 percent. On the other hand, a less restrictive $500,000 cap had no significant effect. The authors also found specialty variations, with the largest impact involving pediatricians and the smallest for claims of surgical subspecialties and ophthalmologists.

Medical Malpractice Reform: Noneconomic Damage Caps Reduced Payments 15 Percent, With Varied Effects By Specialty


By Seth A. Seabury, Eric Helland, and Anupam B. Jena


Seabury is affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles; Helland is a professor at Claremont McKenna College and the RAND Corporation, both in California; and Jena is affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, both in Boston.


This study, which was supported by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice, the National Institute on Aging and Office of the Director, both of the National Institutes of Health, will also appear in the November issue of Health Affairs.

The authors analyzed a national sample of malpractice claims for the period 1985-2010, merging that information with information on state liability reforms. In one comparison, the authors examined how average payments in ten different specialty categories differed according to the restrictiveness of the cap. "Our study is...relevant to ongoing policy debates about the size of noneconomic damages caps," conclude the authors. For the proposed California ballot initiative, "Our findings suggest that it would lead to about a 20 percent increase in average indemnity payments, with larger increases in obstetrics and in pediatrics."  

About Health Affairs

Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print, with additional Web First papers published periodically at The full text of each Health Affairs Web First paper is available free of charge to all website visitors for a one-week period following posting, after which it switches to pay-per-view for nonsubscribers. Web First papers are supported in part by a grant from The Commonwealth Fund. You can also find the journal on Facebook and Twitter. Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog. Download our podcasts, including monthly Narrative Matters essays, on iTunes. Tap into Health Affairs content with the new iPad app.