Backers Of Malpractice Cap Ballot Measure Submit Signatures

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SACRAMENTO — Proponents of a measure to raise the cap on some medical malpractice damages submitted signatures Monday afternoon to qualify for the November ballot, paving the way for a costly initiative fight.

The measure would change a 1975 California law that has limited pain and suffering damages in malpractice cases to $250,000.

The law "has been a true hardship for victims and their surviving families," Bob Pack, an Internet executive from Danville, said at a news conference Monday morning.

The initiative is named after Pack's two children, Troy and Alana, who were killed in a hit-and-run accident in October 2003 by a drunk and heavily medicated driver. Pack has become an advocate for a statewide database on prescription drugs, to prevent "doctor shopping" and medication abuse.

The ballot measure would require physicians to use such a database. It also would mandate doctor drug testing.

"Doctors hold our lives in their hands," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, the advocacy group backing the measure. "We need to make sure there’s a steady hand." 

Proponents have raised around $2 million, mostly from trial attorneys for the campaign, much of it to pay for signature gathering. The measure needs around 504,000 verified signatures to qualify for the ballot; proponents submitted 830,000 signatures.

The Monday morning news conference featured wrenching accounts from families of victims of medical malpractice, previewing what will likely be a emotional and highly charged ballot campaign.

Doctors and other medical providers oppose raising the malpractice cap and have raised more than $33 million to defeat the initiative.

“A ballot measure that is certain to generate more medical lawsuits and drive up costs for every health consumer in California is the worst possible idea at the worst possible time,” Dr. Richard Thorp, president of the California Medical Assn., said in a statement. “This initiative is bad for patients, bad for taxpayers and bad for California’s entire system of healthcare delivery.” 

Fearing that a battle pitting doctors against lawyers would "damage the reputations of two fine professions," state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) had proposed a legislative compromise that would raise the cap to $500,000. Discussions around the proposal stalled late last week.

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