Advocates Fight To Raise $250,000 Cap For Medical Malpractice Damages

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NORWALK >> Thousands of signatures on a controversial ballot initiative that would raise the malpractice cap on California’s negligent doctors were delivered to the Los Angeles County Clerk’s Office Monday. Standing behind piles of boxes filled with signature slips outside the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk building in Norwalk, families who said their loved ones had died due to a negligent or intoxicated doctor held photographs of sons and daughters, sisters and fathers, and shared why they supported the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act.

The act is named for Bob and Carmen Pack’s two young children who died in a car crash in 2003 in Danville after a driver who was overprescribed pain killers fell asleep at the wheel and lost control of her vehicle.

Bob Pack, who authored the bill, said the measure would require physicians to undergo random drug testing, use the existing prescription drug database to curb doctor-shopping drug abusers, and raise the state’s pain and suffering damages cap in medical malpractice cases, which is currently set at $250,000.

“Inside these boxes are the voices of many victims and many Californians who want to see this change,” Pack said during a morning press conference.

But groups that represent physicians, hospitals, dentists and community clinics among others all oppose raising the cap, saying the measure is an attorney-initiated bill that would only serve their interests. Those opposed also say the measure would generate more medical lawsuits and drive up costs for patients.

The cap was set under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1975.

“This initiative is bad for patients, bad for taxpayers, and bad for California’s entire system of health care delivery,” said Dr. Richard Thorpe, president of the California Medical Association.

Hoping to find a compromise between the medical and legal professions, and to avoid a costly ballot initiative, California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, introduced a bill in January to find a legislative solution to the issue. His efforts were applauded by the group Consumer Attorneys of California.

Steinberg suggested raising the MICRA cap on damages to $500,000. But talks between both physicians and attorneys fell apart on Friday.

“An initiative battle is costly and uncertain, and will damage the reputation of two fine professions,” Steinberg said in a statement. “This issue cries out for a legislative solution, and what I’m offering is a conservative increase that’s fair to injured patients as well as the medical and legal communities.

“A cap of $500,000 is far below the rate of inflation since MICRA became law 39 years ago. That number is a reasonable compromise that fairly compensates injured patients without significant increases in medical costs.”

Jamie Court, the executive director for Consumer Watchdog, called raising the MICRA cap modest reform in the face of thousands of deaths due to negligence. In a recent example, Court said a cardiologist in Fresno left his 72-year-old patient on the operating table to go out to lunch. The patient is reportedly in a permanent vegetative state.

“Legislators have had years to make this change,” Court said. “If there is no proper legislation for patient safety, then the people will make the change.”

Parents who lost children due to questionable medical practices said they backed the law not for the money, but to hold bad physicians accountable.

Alejandra Gonzalez of La Puente said her infant daughter Mia began coughing hard back in 2013. She took Mia to Fountain Valley Regional Medical Center where doctors said her baby was fine. But the cough only worsened. Gonzalez said she returned with her daughter every day for four days and no lab tests were taken. Mia died of whooping cough on the fifth day Gonzalez took her child to the hospital. She said the doctors should have known better.

“This happened when there was a whooping cough epidemic in 2010,” Gonzalez said. “Isn’t that malpractice?”

Reach the author at [email protected] or follow Susan on Twitter: @sabramLA.

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