Caps On Medical Malpractice Awards Could Face New Ballot Challenge

Published on

“We are the most progressive state in the country with the most regressive medical malpractice laws in the country,” the president of Consumer Watchdog says.

By Cheryl Miller, THE RECORDER

September 26, 2019

A Southern California trial lawyer, the parents of injured children and the leader of a consumer group say they’ll go to the ballot box in 2020 to try again to lift the state’s cap on medical malpractice damages.

Nicholas Rowley, a partner at Carpenter Zuckerman & Rowley, and Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, on Thursdays unveiled a proposed 10-page ballot initiative that would gut California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. The law, widely known as MICRA, caps noneconomic damages for medical malpractice at $250,000. It has been the bane of the plaintiffs attorneys and their clients for more than four decades now.

“We are the most progressive state in the country with the most regressive medical malpractice laws in the country,” Court said.

The initiative would tether the noneconomic damages cap to inflation, raising it to $1.2 million in today’s dollars and adjusting it annually thereafter. 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.

The initiative also includes provisions that Rowley said are aimed at discouraging frivolous lawsuits. Attorneys for plaintiffs in medical negligence cases would be required to attest to the defendant that they’ve consulted with a health care provider who has found a “reasonable basis” for the claim. If a judge finds a lawsuit meritless, the plaintiff would have to pay the defendant’s expenses and attorney’s fees.

Rowley said the initiative was drafted with the help of James Harrison, partner at election law firm Remcho Johansen & Purcell.

The California Medical Association and another supporter of the caps, Californians Allied for Patient Protection, were not immediately reached for comment.

The plaintiffs bar last tried to overturn MICRA in 2014 with Proposition 64, which promised to increase the damages cap while also requiring doctors to undergo drug and alcohol testing and to use the state’s prescription drug database. Insurers and medical trade organizations spent nearly $58 million to oppose the measure, which voters rejected overwhelmingly on election day.

Backers of the 2020 initiative said their measure will fare better than its predecessor because it’s focused solely on MICRA and because they anticipate a high turnout of progressive voters in next year’s presidential election.

“The ballot measure in 2014 wasn’t straightforward. It wasn’t honest,” Rowley said. “They put out a ballot measure in a bad election year.”

Rowley, who said he is ready to finance what would surely be a multi-million-dollar initiative campaign on his own, does not have the initial support of the organized plaintiffs bar. Consumer Attorneys of California president Mike Arias and chief executive officer Nancy Drabble said Thursday that the organization has not taken a position on the measure.

“We believe the best place to address this issue is in the state Legislature, and our hope is that state elected leaders will embrace the need to correct an antiquated law that has undercut patient safety and basic human rights for too many decades,” Arias and Drabble said in a statement.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the original MICRA legislation, did not support many of the plaintiffs attorneys’ political goals, such as restricting the use of arbitration and expanding consumers’ opportunities to sue.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s position on the trial bar’s agenda will be more fully fleshed out as he signs or vetoes some of the hundreds of bills now on his desk. And while Democrats hold large majorities in both houses of the Legislature, significant blocs in their caucuses remain unfriendly toward consumer attorney-backed bills that are opposed by business groups.

Both Court and Rowley questioned the Consumer Attorneys’ commitment to finding a broad legislative solution, noting that the law has been on the books since 1975.

Supporters must collect 623,212 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.


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


Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

Latest Healthcare Videos

Video thumbnail
KGET - Consumer Watchdog Advocates Note The Importance of Making Change Within The Healthcare System
Video thumbnail
ABC - Bakersfield, CA; Consumer Watchdog Shows Support in Honor of the Latina Maternal Health Fair
Video thumbnail
KABC- Los Angeles, CA; Pathways Medical in Toluca Lake Owner Falsely Claims to be A Licensed Doctor
Video thumbnail
Spectrum News; CW Argues Senate Bill 815's Proposed Changes Aren't Enough To Protect Patients
Video thumbnail
WABI (CBS) - Bangor, ME; Consumer Watchdog's Jerry Flanagan Speaks Upon Medical Debt Reform
Video thumbnail
KBAK-TV; Bakersfield Report on EuroPhoria
Video thumbnail
KGO - San Francisco, CA; The Shortest, Most Expensive Ambulance Ride
Video thumbnail
23 (ABC); Tracy Dominguez and Selena Alvarez Seek Justice At The Osteopathic Medical Board Meeting
Video thumbnail
CBS 8: Chula Vista Plastic Surgeon Charged With Manslaughter Still In Practice
Video thumbnail
KTLA - Los Angeles, CA; Consumer Watchdog Group Members Calling For A Patient Bill of Rights
Video thumbnail
KNBC - Los Angeles, CA; Medical Board Member TJ Watkins Calls On Californians To Help
Video thumbnail
KGET NBC TV-17 Bakersfield, CA: Gov Newsom Signs Bill To Increase Med Mal Damages Cap
Video thumbnail
KGET NBC TV-17 Bakersfield, CA: Local Family Supports Passage of AB 35 To Raise Med Mal Cap in CA
Video thumbnail
KNSD NBC TV-7 San Diego, CA: CA Bill Seeks to Raise Medical Malpractice Damages Cap
Video thumbnail
KOVR CBS TV-13 Sacramento, CA: How Will State Raising Medical Malpractice Cap Affect Patients?
Video thumbnail
KERO ABC TV-23 Bakersfield, CA: Families of Malpractice Victims Push for Doctor Accountability
Video thumbnail
KABC TV-7 Los Angeles, CA: Victims of Medical Malpractice Demand Changes at California Medical Board
Video thumbnail
KCBS TV-2 Los Angeles, CA: COVD Testing Lab Defrauding Consumers in California
Video thumbnail
KCAL TV 9, CBS, Los Angeles: GOP healthcare plan may bring back the days of junk insurance
Video thumbnail
KCAL TV-9 Los Angeles, CA: What Consumers Should Know About Potential Obamacare Changes
Video thumbnail
Bernie Sanders speaks for Prop 61!
Video thumbnail
Exposed: Trump's Health Plan
Video thumbnail
AHF's Michael Weinstein speaks for Prop 61
Video thumbnail
CURES: How Far We Have Come
Video thumbnail
Who Does Your Doctor Care About Protecting?
Video thumbnail
Bernie Sanders at Prop 61 rally
Video thumbnail
"Your Money or Your Life" (Trailer #1)
Video thumbnail
"Your Money or Your Life" (Trailer #2)
Video thumbnail
KGET NBC TV-17 Bakersfield, CA: Push To Reform CA State Medical Board Advances
Video thumbnail
KGET NBC TV-17 Bakersfield, CA: Two Years Since Childbirth Tragedy By Alleged Medical Negligence
Video thumbnail
KGET NBC TV-17 Bakersfield, CA: Dominguez Family Testifies At Med Board Hearing To Get Justice

Latest Healthcare Releases

Healthcare In The News

Latest Healthcare Report

Support Consumer Watchdog

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, press releases and special reports.

More Healthcare Releases