Ballot measure filed to raise California’s medical damages cap

by Jeremy B. White, Sacramento Bee

The drive to lift California’s cap on medical damages could be going to the ballot box.

A coalition of attorney groups has been lobbying aggressively this year to change a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. They argue the current limit, put in place by the 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, is outdated and insufficient to cover the prolonged affects of doctor negligence or botched medical procedure.

Now one of those groups, Consumer Watchdog, is overseeing a proposed ballot measure filed by proponent Robert S. Pack, whose two children were killed by a driver impaired by prescription drugs given to him by irresponsible doctors, according to Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court.

“He sued Kaiser and found out that his kids’ life was worth $250,000 each, simply because he was suing a doctor,” Court said.

If passed, the measure would raise the ceiling on damages payments to about $1.1 million and allow it to continue rising along with inflation. It would also mandate random drug and alcohol testing for physicians who practice in hospitals and surgery centers and compel physicians to use a voluntary database that tracks prescriptions.

One of the organizations that has been pushing for a legislative fix, Consumer Attorneys of California, has not yet decided to formally endorse the ballot initiative.

“We’re still doing everything we can to see if we can reach a legislative settlement,” spokesman J.G. Preston said, adding that “updating and modernizing this cap to bring it in line with the reality 30 years later is a very high priority for us.”

The proposal immediately drew criticism from the California Medical Association, the California Hospital Association and the Civil Justice Association of California, a group that is focused on curbing litigation. In a statement, president Kim Stone lambasted the initiative’s backers for potentially driving up liability costs at a time when California faces a shortage of providers who can manage an anticipated flood of newly insured patients.

“This proposed initiative, which is supported by trial lawyers who would be able to make more money in medical malpractice cases, could not come at a worse time and I am confident that California voters would easily recognize that,” Stone said in the statement.