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Health Aff (Millwood). 2004 Jul-Aug;23(4):54-67.

Are damages caps regressive? A study of malpractice jury verdicts in California.

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  • 1Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. studdert@hsph.harvard.edu


Caps on damages have emerged as the most controversial legislative response to the new malpractice crisis. We analyzed a sample of high-end jury verdicts in California that were subjected to the state's dollars 250,000 cap on noneconomic damages. We found strong evidence that the cap's fiscal impact was distributed inequitably across different types of injuries. In absolute dollar terms, the reductions imposed on grave injury were seven times larger than those for minor injury; the largest proportional reductions were for injuries that centered on pain and disfigurement. Use of sliding scales of damages instead of or in conjunction with caps would mitigate their adverse impacts on fairness.

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