Initiative Would Raise Cap on Medical Malpractice Damages

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California’s high-stakes battle over medical malpractice damages could move to the ballot box next year. The initiative campaign seeking to increase the cap on “pain and suffering” awards will pit trial lawyers against doctors.

California’s $250,000 cap on “noneconomic” medical malpractice damages hasn’t gone up since a governor named Jerry Brown signed it into law in 1975.  Backers of an initiative that would more than quadruple that cap are now gathering voter signatures.  They hope to place it on the November 2014 ballot.

But that’s not all the measure would address. In a web ad from the group Consumer Watchdog shows, actors sing that a doctor shown in the ad “doesn't have to pee in a cup.” It's meant to point out that doctors don’t have to go through any drug or alcohol testing.  The initiative would change that.

“Every aspect of this measure is moderate; it’s well-reasoned; and it’s the result of the suffering of patients who have died and their families have never gotten justice, or they’ve been injured and their families have never gotten justice, due to no fault of their own,” says Consumer Watchdog’s Jamie Court. 

Health care provider groups disagree.  Dr. Richard Thorp, President of the California Medical Association, calls the testing provision “window dressing” designed to win voter approval for the more controversial medical malpractice cap increase.

“The physician community is always looking for ways to improve patient safety.  Unfortunately, that’s not really what this ballot measure is about.  The ballot measure is really about making more money for trial attorneys,” Thorp says. 

Initiative backers got a boost from Attorney General Kamala Harris.  Her official description of the ballot measure emphasizes the drug and alcohol testing provision and mentions the medical malpractice cap increase last.


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