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Medical Malpractice Lawyer Ranks Have Shriveled

Publication Date: 
June 03, 2014
Daily Journal
Paul Jones

Professor Nora Freeman Engstrom comments on attempts to reform CalIfornia's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act for The Daily Journal. 

It's been nearly 40 years since lawsuit payouts for patients' pain and suffering were capped in California, an event followed by decades of national tort reform legislation. Younger lawyers have no memory of an era of uncapped medical malpractice damages, and medical tort practice has withered in the state, losing representation in the broader plaintiff lawyer community.

Yet tort lawyers are pushing a ballot measure to reform the 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act - a costly, risky venture that would benefit only a sliver of the state's tort lawyers. According to some observers, the effort is in part an attempt to revitalize the tort community across generational lines, and after years of defeat.

"The plaintiffs' community has been so beaten, for so long," said Nora Engstrom, a professor and MICRA expert at Stanford Law School. "The plaintiffs' bar has been battling with insurance and corporate interests now for nearly 40 years, and has notched very few victories in legislation."

... MICRA's legacy frustrates tort lawyers. MICRA has been "the poster child for tort reform - it was the first major initiative," according to Engstrom.