Effort to avert malpractice cap ballot measure on the ropes


SACRAMENTO--A last-minute effort to forge a legislative deal on medical malpractice damages—and avoid a bruising initiative battle between lawyers and medical providers--has stalled, parties involved in the discussions said Friday.

Trial lawyers and consumer groups have squared off against doctors, insurance companies and hospitals over caps on pain and suffering damages in malpractice cases. Those rewards have been capped at $250,000 since 1975, when the state enacted the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA.

The lawyers have been gathering signatures for a ballot measure that would raise the cap to approximately $1.1 million. It would also require doctors to be drug tested and to check a statewide database when prescribing certain medications to stop prescription drug abuse. The collected signatures must be turned in by Monday.


Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) confirmed Friday that he had proposed a deal to raise the cap on pain and suffering damages to $500,000. There would be no future increases pegged to inflation.

John Feder, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, said his group was open to the proposal.

“At a minimum we believe it is fair to adjust the 38-year-old cap to present-day dollars [approximately $1.1 million]. However, in the spirit of compromise, we were willing to agree to a doubling of the cap on non-economic damages to at least give patients a fighting chance,” Feder said in a statement. “The medical industry would prefer to spend nearly $100 million to continue to block access to people maimed and killed by malpractice.”

A representative for the medical providers coalition declined to comment Friday.

Steinberg said the lack of a compromise would be a “terrible missed opportunity.” He said he wanted to fend off the imminent ballot measure fight, which he said will be “costly, uncertain and will damage the reputations of two fine professions.”

“This cries out for a legislative solution and a legislative compromise,” said Steinberg, who said he was still hoping for an eleventh-hour solution before the Monday signature deadline.