Governor Newsom Signs Historic Legislation to Restore Patient Access to Justice, Update 47-Year-Old Medical Malpractice Damage Cap

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VIDEO AVAILABLE: HD Video of Medical Malpractice Survivors’ Press Conference Commenting on Bill Available Here:

Sacramento, CA – Consumer Watchdog and California families harmed by medical negligence applauded Governor Newsom’s historic signature today on legislation to update California’s 47-year-old medical malpractice damage cap and restore injured patients’ access to justice.

Proponents of the Fairness for Injured Patients Act, including Consumer Watchdog board member Scott Olsen, withdrew the initiative measure that spurred today’s legislative compromise from the ballot in response to the legislative compromise. The Fairness Act had qualified for the November California 2022 ballot with funding from Nick Rowley, an attorney who lost his own son to medical negligence.

The families behind the ballot measure, whose stories can be found at, held a press conference to comment on the new law. That footage can be downloaded at:

Scott Olsen’s son Steven was just two years old when he fell on a stick in the woods and was rushed to the ER. His family’s pleas for a CT scan, that would have detected a growing brain abscess, were denied. The delay left Steven permanently disabled, blinded and dependent on others for his care.  The cap reduced a $7 million jury verdict for Steven’s lifetime of blindness and disability to $250,000.

“This historic agreement was only possible because so many families, like mine, decided to repeatedly stand up and demand change after the malpractice cap denied them justice. Although it is too late for my family to benefit from this change, at least others won’t have to endure the same suffering ours did three decades ago. With this deal, the California legislature and all parties have finally recognized—regardless of income—that survivors of medical negligence deserve legal representation and accountability, and that their collective rage—a rage for justice—was finally heard,” said Scott Olsen.

Learn more about Steven Olsen’s story:

The bill, AB 35, will restore families’ access to justice by:

  • Increasing the cap to $500,000 for wrongful death cases and $350,000 for injury cases on January 1 of 2023.
  • Raising the cap in increments every year for ten years, until it reaches $1 million for wrongful death cases and $750,000 for injury cases in 2033.
  • Allowing for up to three separate caps in cases when multiple providers and institutions are responsible. Starting next year the maximum cap could be $1.5 million for wrongful death cases, and $1.05 million for injury cases. By 2033 it will be a maximum $3 million for wrongful death and $2.25 million for injury cases.
  • Increasing the cap by 2% every year starting in 2034.

Adjusting the cap will reduce medical errors and thereby save the state as much as $245 million annually, according to a new policy brief published by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. The study examines new research that finds malpractice caps are associated with a 16% increase in hospital adverse events. In 2018, over a quarter of a million Medi-Cal patients experienced a “never event,” serious incidents defined by the state as wholly preventable or avoidable, and the state spent approximately $1.5 billion on these cases. A 16% reduction in adverse events in California could mean savings to the state of $245 million annually.

Read the report, “The California Malpractice Cap on Noneconomic Losses: Unintended Consequences and Arguments for Reform,” here:

Charles Johnson’s 39-year old wife Kira died during childbirth at Cedars Sinai when her bladder was lacerated during a C-section and her symptoms negligently ignored for 10 hours while she bled out. Johnson is the Chair of the Fairness for Injured Patients Act.

“This ballot measure was about justice for families, especially women of color who experience more medical negligence in a biased health care system and then are denied accountability because of California’s outdated, one-size-fits-all cap. With this compromise, families will finally be able to find an attorney and have their day in court,” said Charles Johnson, Chair of the Fairness For Injured Patients Act campaign.  “I’m proud that it’s a part of my wife’s legacy that other families will have access to the justice that we’ve been denied.”

Learn more about Kira Johnson:

Updating the cap could also save the state nearly $18 million annually by increasing reimbursements from medical malpractice lawsuits for the care provided to Medi-Cal patients who are harmed by medical negligence. Consumer Watchdog analyzed Medicaid data collected from states across the country and compared reimbursements in states with, and without, malpractice caps. The study found states without a cap, and with similar population sizes and costs of living as California, receive 2.55 times as much in reimbursements to Medicaid as California, or $17.7 million a year.

Read the report, “Lift the Cap: How Fairly Compensating Injured Patients Will Save Taxpayer Dollars,” here:

Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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