Nader assails Brown for not backing Prop. 46 to raise lawsuit caps

Nader says Brown's refusal to support Prop. 46 is 'inconceivable to those who admire' the governor

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader blasted his onetime ally California Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday for failing to back a November ballot proposition that would raise the cap on pain-and-suffering awards in medical malpractice suits.

“It’s inexplicable to me. It’s disappointing beyond my ability to explain to you,” Nader said in an interview, a day after he wrote a letter to Brown voicing his displeasure over his refusal to climb aboard Proposition 46.

The ballot measure -- expected to be among the most expensive fights on the November ballot -- would raise the pain-and-suffering limit from $250,000 to $1.1 million and adjust the figure in ensuing years based on inflation.

It would also mandate drug and alcohol testing of doctors and require that physicians check a database before prescribing certain drugs to fight “doctor-shopping” by pill addicts.

Brown signed the law that created the $250,000 cap in 1975, during his first term as governor. He later came to regret it, opposing an effort to include a similar provision in the health plan being proposed by the Clintons.

California, Brown said in 1993, "found that insurance company avarice, not utilization of the legal system by injured consumers, was responsible for excessive premiums.”

"Saddest of all," the cap "has revealed itself to have an arbitrary and cruel effect upon the victims of malpractice. It has not lowered healthcare costs; only enriched insurers and placed negligent or incompetent physicians outside the reach of judicial accountability," Brown said then.

Nader pointed to these words Tuesday in his letter to Brown.

“For some unexplained personal reason, you fear the health industry lobby more than your desire to correct a terrible injustice to some of the most innocent and vulnerable Californians,” Nader wrote, adding that such a position was “inconceivable to those who admire you and your moral sentiments."

Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the campaign opposing the proposition, took issue with Nader's position, saying the consumer advocate "might stand with trial lawyers, but California’s health providers, Planned Parenthood and community clinics, education, labor, business and local government groups all stand firmly against the high costs of Proposition 46.” 

A political spokesman for Brown said the governor was focused on his top priorities for November: getting voters to approve Propositions 1 and 2, a $7.5-billion water bond measure and a state rainy-day fund, respectively.

“He gets lobbied every day by folks on all sides of everything on every ballot -- but he’s focused on Props 1 & 2,” Brown spokesman Dan Newman wrote in an email.

Brown, 76, and Nader, 80, have a long history. Their relationship dates back to the 1970s, and they have mounted eight White House bids between them. In the 1992 campaign, Brown said he would name Nader to his Cabinet if elected president (Brown lost the Democratic primary to Bill Clinton).

Nader says he is convinced that a 2016 presidential run is the reason Brown is refusing to take a stand on Proposition 46; he expects the Democratic governor to run if Hillary Rodham Clinton stumbles in her expected presidential bid.

Brown, Nader said, does not want to be labeled anti-business and on the side of the attorneys who support the measure.

Brown has repeatedly said he is not running for the White House in 2016, most recently Friday in an interview with The Times.

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