California Ballot Initiative to Lift Cap on Negligence Payments Certified

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By Timothy Darragh, BESTWIRE 

July 24, 2020

A ballot initiative to lift the 45-year-old cap on quality-of-life and survivor benefits will go before California voters in 2022.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla certified the ballot initiative after supporters of the measure collected 623,212 valid petition signatures, equal to 5% of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2018 general election, he said in a statement. 

Supporters gathered more than 900,000 signatures, according to Consumer Watchdog, which backs the measure.

The Fairness for Injured Patients Act would adjust for inflation the maximum $250,000 compensation cap set by the California legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown in 1975 on quality of life and wrongful death survivor damages, Consumer Watchdog said in a statement. The 45-year-old cap is worth 80% less today, about $50,768 in 1975 dollars, and disproportionately impacts Black and brown Californians, it said.

If passed, judges and jurors would be allowed to decide if compensation above $250,000 is appropriate in certain cases of catastrophic injury or death, it said. It also would require juries to be informed about the existence of the cap.

According to Padilla’s office, the measure also would index to inflation contingent attorney’s fees limits established in 1987.

In cases involving death or permanent injury, it said, the measure would require the judge to award attorney’s fees; require attorneys filing cases to certify reasonable basis for claims or a good-faith attempt to obtain a medical opinion. Attorneys who file meritless lawsuits would have to pay a defendant’s expenses, it said.

In addition, it would extend deadlines for filing medical negligence lawsuits.

According to Padilla’s office, a report considering the fiscal impact on state and local governments estimated that increased health care costs would range from the low tens of millions of dollars to the high hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Lisa Maas, the head of Californians Allied for Patient Protection, a lobbying group against the ballot initiative, said the initiative would benefit only trial lawyers.

“It’s unfortunate that while California’s health providers are courageously working on the front lines of this pandemic, a few opportunistic trial lawyers have remained focused on a ballot measure that would substantially increase the burden on California’s doctors and clinics while inflating health care costs for everyone,” Maas said. 

Officials at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association’s California office declined to comment.

In 2014, California voters defeated Proposition 46 with less than 33% of the vote, a measure which would have increased the pain-and-suffering cap from $250,000 to about $1.1 million(Best’s News, Nov. 5, 2014).

Major insurance companies kicked in millions to oppose the measure, including the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., WellPoint and affiliated entities and Blue Shield of California (Best’s News, Oct. 24, 2014).

(By Timothy Darragh, associate editor, BestWeek: [email protected])

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