Overview of California’s Medical Malpractice Laws

Medically reviewed by: lacolon2016

Overview of California’s Medical Malpractice LawsMedical malpractice means that a medical professional has breached the standard of care during the course of providing treatment to a patient. As far as the law is concerned, that breach of care must cause harm to the patient in some way, for that patient to be able to sue for medical malpractice.

This definition—and the possible resulting court case—differs somewhat from state to state, either adding clauses, removing them, or otherwise altering the base understanding of what medical malpractice entails in some way. California, as one of the largest states in the union, has a set of very specific definitions and laws that apply to the arbitration of medical malpractice laws.

Time to File Suit

In the state of California, a patient has one year from the point of the discovery of malpractice, or three years from the onset of the injury to file a lawsuit, whichever comes first. In the case of wrongful death, California’s statute of limitations gives family members two years to file their case.

Thus, a patient (or the family of a patient) who finds himself or herself in a possible medical malpractice situation must act quickly.

In cases related to surgical injuries or concerns, a surgical medical malpractice expert can help figure out the next steps.

Specialty Branches of Malpractice Lawyers

While nearly all malpractice attorneys can assist with medical malpractice cases, different specializations exist for attorneys within this field of law.

These medical malpractice attorney specializations include:

  • Brain Injury
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Medication Error
  • Wrongful Death
  • Developmental Delay
  • Birth Injury
  • Dental Malpractice
  • General Abuse
  • Anesthesia
  • Plastic Surgery

Types of Medical Malpractice Damages

Under California law, several types of medical malpractice damages can be recovered if you find yourself in a malpractice situation. These include:

  • Economic Damages. Or, receiving some form of monetary compensation for whatever medical bills clients were forced to pay and for the time missed at a place of work due to the injuries caused by a physician’s breach of the standard of care.
  • Non-Economic. This compensation is directly for the injuries themselves, including any form of pain, suffering, physical impairment, and overall inconvenience of the injuries.
  • Punitive. In the case that a medical professional acted in a way that can be proved to be malicious or otherwise intentionally illicit, then an attorney can seek punitive damages that will work to severely punish the medical professional for his or her aberrant behavior.  This occurrence is rare.

In any medical malpractice case, there is a limit on the amount that a plaintiff can demand in non-economic damages, or the injuries themselves. These caps exist as a means of deterring frivolous and otherwise malicious lawsuits in their own right, and California is no exception.

In the United States, the average damages cap per state sits at around $626,000, and 28 states do not even have a damages cap. The highest damages cap in the nation is in Virginia, which increases at a rate of $50,000 per year until 2031, and the lowest damages cap is in California, with only $250,000 allowed to be demanded by plaintiffs for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The California Supreme Court Case that set this cap dates back to 1975 and the implementation of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). For decades, attorneys and courts have argued against this Act, especially when defending cases of clear medical malpractice due to negligence, malicious or otherwise. But so far, it has been to no avail, as the damages cap remains steady.


An experienced lawyer who understands the practical aspects of our legal system can help a plaintiff move forward through the system.  An experienced defense counsel can likewise guide clients through a most stressful and pressurized experience.