Medical malpractice lawsuits in California are some of the most restrictive with respect to filing claims and recovering for damages that have resulted from medical negligence. California plaintiffs could receive more money from these lawsuits under a ballot initiative that is now fully eligible for the 2022 November election. It was a strategic decision to wait until the pandemic is less advanced to vote on an initiative to change the state’s medical malpractice cap – the intent being to hone focus on the limit threshold and not an ongoing health crisis.
Proponents of this measure to adjust the malpractice cap reportedly collected 900,000 signatures, enough to qualify for the ballot in California as an initiated state statute on November 8, 2022. There would be a requirement of an annual adjustment of the cap based on inflation if it passes.
The summary presented for inclusion on the signature petition sheets is stated as:
“In medical negligence cases, adjusts for inflation: (1) $250,000 limit established in 1975 on quality-of-life and survivor damages (which include pain and suffering); and (2) contingent attorney’s fees limits established in 1987. In cases involving death or permanent injury, allows judge or jury to exceed these limits and requires judge to award attorney’s fees. Requires attorneys filing medical negligence cases to certify reasonable basis for claims or good faith attempt to obtain medical opinion; attorneys who file meritless lawsuits must pay defendant’s expenses. Extends deadlines for filing medical negligence lawsuits.”
A “yes” vote supports this ballot initiative to increase California’s $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits based on changes in inflation since 1975 and allow judges and juries to award damages above the cap for catastrophic injuries.
A “no” vote opposes this ballot initiative, therefore keeping California’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at $250,000.
It is quite stunning that since 1975, California has maintained capped damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at a mere $250,000 per plaintiff for claims such as pain and suffering, psychological anguish associated with a permanent injury, disability or the wrongful death of a loved one. Originally, the cap was meant to deter frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals while also preserving patients’ right to seek damages in court. The Fairness for Injured Patients Act would adjust for inflation by removing the 45-year-old cap that is worth 80 percent less today, only $50,768 in 1975 dollars and disproportionately impacts black and brown Californians.
The new initiative ties the cap to inflation, expanding it to about $1.2 million. Supporters have also brilliantly highlighted how the cap disproportionately impacts people of color, making reference to a study performed by the Brookings Institute that concluded babies of well-educated black mothers are more likely to die before their first birthday than babies of white mothers with less than a high school education. Charles Johnson, the ballot initiative’s campaign chair whose wife’s bladder was cut during a C-section and died during childbirth said, “This ballot initiative is in large part about fixing a system that does not provide primarily black and brown families with a fair day in court when they face gross medical negligence.”
Profoundly, the new ballot initiative goes further than previous versions in that it would permit judges and juries to award damages past the cap for cases inclusive of death or catastrophic injury. It would also require a judge to award attorney fees in those cases.
Opponents fear the petition language is too ambiguous and would thrust the burden onto doctors and hospitals, thus increasing health care costs. Most can see the blatant misstep of not accounting for inflation for over 45 years.
An experienced medical malpractice plaintiff attorney can advise you or a loved one that has been the victim of medical negligence in California. Their information should include overviews and advice regarding the malpractice cap and possible passing of an adjustment to the cap. Your attorney should provide an extensive evaluation of all pertinent information to determine if you have a claim and, if so, provide legal advice such as when to file your malpractice lawsuit, the potential value of your claim and your options for moving forward.
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