New bill brings medical malpractice fight to the Legislature

John Perez, Darrell Steinberg
State Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, talks to reporters following Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014 State of the State address. Steinberg introduced a bill Friday to serve as a vehicle for a legislative compromise on California’s medical malpractice law.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

SACRAMENTO--Seeking to avert a costly initiative battle, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has introduced a bill to serve as a vehicle for a legislative compromise on California’s medical malpractice law. 

The measure is brief: just one sentence stating the Legislature’s intention to “bring interested parties together to develop a legislative solution to issues surrounding medical malpractice injury compensation.”

But the bill--which arrived last Friday, the final day new legislation could be introduced this session--marks the state Senate leader’s last-ditch effort to stave off an ugly looming initiative battle.

Trial lawyers and consumer groups are pushing a measure that would raise the cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractices cases from $250,000 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 clamp down on prescription drug abuse. 


The initiative’s backers must turn in signed petitions by March 24 in order to qualify for the November ballot. They’re anticipated to hold off from submitting their signatures until the deadline, giving the Legislature some time to tackle the issue.

“Patient safety is a serious problem,” said Eric Bailey, communications director of the Consumer Attorneys of California, responding to Steinberg’s bill, SB 1429. “We are glad that the patients from all around the state who have been sharing their stories may have the chance to have their voices heard in Sacramento.”

Doctors, along with insurance companies and other medical providers, oppose raising the cap, which was set by a 1975 law called the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA. They argue the cap reins in medical malpractice premiums, and changing the limits may hurt availability of care.

Jim DeBoo, campaign manager for the coalition opposing the initiative, said Steinberg’s measure is “what we expected and it doesn’t alter the dynamics of the situation.”


“In the current healthcare environment, any proposal certain to cause more lawsuits, increase costs and reduce access is simply a nonstarter,” DeBoo said. “Our health system can’t afford it and the people of California don’t want it.”