California Voters To Decide On Raising the Medical Malpractice Caps
840,000 residents have signed on to support a ballot initiative to increase the California medical malpractice award caps. Under state law, 505,000 signatures are required. Current caps for malpractice awards are $250,000. The initiative, which will be put on the November ballot, will increase the monetary damages for pain and suffering to $1.1 million, if passed.
The signatures were gathered by a Santa Monica-based consumer watchdog group. The group’s president, Jamie Court, indicated “he would wait until the end of the day on Monday to submit the final signatures, waiting to see if a legislative compromise that fell apart last week would be resurrected before an early evening deadline to submit the signatures for a ballot initiative,” reported Reuters.
“We are waiting at the behest of legislative leaders to go forth and put these signatures in across the state,” Steve Court told Reuters.
For about 20 years, patient representatives have tried to impel the state to increase the limit for pain and suffering awards. The current cap was set in the 1970s and did not go up with inflation; however, the California Medical Association and other doctors’ representatives opposed raising the cap, making it difficult to change current legislation.
With enough signatures to place the new legislation on the ballot, state senate leader Darrell Steinberg believed it would be prudent to bring both sides together to negotiate a change rather than deal with the looming legal battles between doctors and lawyers. At one point, it seemed the two opposing parties would come to an agreement to raise the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) to $500,000.
“My suggested compromise was to raise the MICRA cap on damages due to medical malpractice from $250,000 to $500,000,” Steinberg wrote to Reuters.
However, negotiations recently broke-down leading to the measure being placed on the November ballot. In addition to raising the cap, the bill includes random drug testing of doctors to address increasing concern of over-prescription of opiate pain killers including among other doctors.
Support for increasing the cap
In a study by the RAND corporation, “RAND found that MICRA-triggered changes in award size are a common feature of medical malpractice trials in California when the jury reaches a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The cap on non-economic awards was imposed in 45 percent of the cases won by plaintiffs in the sample. Defendants’ overall liabilities were reduced by 30 percent as a result of MICRA.”
Recently, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer endorsed the initiative saying, “I will never forget meeting a child who was severely disfigured and forever confined to a wheelchair because of medical malpractice. I was stunned to learn how unfair California law is in terms of compensating these patients and their families,” she said.
California voters will decide whether or not to raise the cap for pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits in November. It remains to be seen how opponents and proponents of the changes will handle themselves to influence the outcome.