1978 law caps pain and suffering damages unreasonably low
by Brian Leubitz
$250,000 is a lot of money, right? If somebody asked you to eat a nasty bug for a quarter of a million dollars, you would at least give it a thought. But would you trade four of your limbs and a lifetime of phantom pain for $250,000? That’s basically what happened to Alan Cronin.
As you can see in the video to the right, Mr. Cronin’s story is devastating. After a routine hernia surgery, he quickly developed pain at the surgery site and eventually went to the hospital. Doctors were not able to find open the site for two more days, whereupon he was already in toxic shock from a massive staph infection. Though he was given only a 5% chance of survival, he made it. But he lost all four of his limbs to the infection, and is now in constant pain. Because of this medical negligence, his life was never the same.
For all that, he can collect $250,000 of pain and suffering damages. In tort law, damages were traditionally meant to make the victim of the tort whole. Or, to attempt as best as possible to reasonably compensate victims for their damage. With real estate, damages are easy to compute. You drove your car into a building? Well, it will cost X amount of dollars to fix it, you have to pay X amount of dollars.
But with a subjective injury, like losing four limbs and experiencing pain every day of your life, how much is that worth? Put it another way, would you take $250,000 to give up your four limbs, even putting aside the constant pain? Of course not.
But that it was MICRA does. The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 has not been adjusted for nearly forty years, and was never adjusted for inflation. What was once at least a sizable amount of money has lost around 75% of its value. The legislation now creates perverse incentives while putting patients at risk.
Alan Cronin knows only too well just how much this simple sounding law can impact a life.