By Cheryl Miller, LAW.COM
April 30, 2020
Authors of an initiative that would raise California’s $250,000 cap on medical malpractice awards say they’re dropping efforts to qualify for the November 2020 ballot and will instead target the 2022 general election.
Backers of the measure, including plaintiffs lawyer Nicholas Rowley, a partner at Carpenter Zuckerman & Rowley, say they’ve collected 988,000 petition signatures. The number, if a high percentage of signatures are valid, would be more than enough to qualify for the November ballot. But advocates say waiting until 2022 will give them more time to get the signatures to elections officials.
“Voters are overwhelmed with trying to keep their families safe and deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19,” said measure proponent Scott Olsen. “It will be more productive to have this conversation when everything stabilizes.”
The initiative, pushed by Rowley, Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog and the families of injured patients, would lift the ceiling on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases to $1.2 million while tying the limit to the inflation rate for regular increases.
Judges and juries would be allowed to award damages above the cap in cases involving “catastrophic” injuries and death. And the measure would disallow evidence of collateral sources of victim support, such as insurance policies, and end mandatory periodic payments to plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs attorneys and victims have tried to eliminate or raise the $250,000 cap since it was enacted in 1975 with no success. A plaintiffs bar-backed initiative to overturn the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, lost overwhelmingly on the 2014 ballot amid $58 million in opposition spending by insurers and medical trade groups.
The main state lobby for trial lawyers, the Consumer Attorneys for California, never endorsed the initiative and said any changes to MICRA should be initiated in the Legislature.
Plaintiffs attorneys were hoping Gov. Gavin Newsom would be more receptive to raising or eliminating the cap than his predecessor, Jerry Brown, who did not support MICRA amendments. The 2020 legislative session has been largely curtailed, however, by absences due to the coronavirus pandemic and an expected plunge in state revenues. Medical malpractice caps are not expected to be part of state budget discussions or legislative efforts this year.
Cheryl Miller, based in Sacramento, covers the state legislature and emerging industries, including autonomous vehicles and marijuana. She authors the weekly cannabis newsletter Higher Law. Contact her at [email protected]. On Twitter: @CapitalAccounts