California medical malpractice cap initiative, potentially “most expensive” in state history, submits signatures

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March 25, 2014

By Ryan Byrne

On March 24, 2014, Consumer Watchdog submitted signatures to respective county offices for the Increase in Cap on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Initiative in California. Proponents estimated that they turned in approximately 830,000 signatures.[1] Only 504,760 valid signatures are required to place the measure on the ballot. Thus, they collected about 164% of the necessary signatures. If the official tally suggests that they collected at least 110% of the required signatures, that is 555,236 signatures, then their petitions will be verified by a random sampling. If the sample indicates that less than 95% of the signature are valid, the measure is not certified. If the sample shows that between 95% and 110% of the signatures are valid, county elections officials must verify every signature. If the sample indicates that more than 110% of the signatures are valid, then the measure will be certified for the ballot.

The initiative, which is an initiated state statute, would primarily do two things: (1) Increase the state's cap on damages that can be assessed in medical negligence lawsuits to over $1 million from the current cap of $250,000 and (2) require drug and alcohol testing of doctors and reporting of positive tests to the California Medical Board.[2]

The Increase in Cap on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Initiative would likely pit the medical industry and doctors, on the one hand, against consumer attorneys, on the other. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-6) of the California Senate said he was wary about the ballot initiative, particularly how expensive the campaign will be, and called for a compromise. He stated, "An initiative battle is costly and uncertain, and will damage the reputation of two fine professions. This issue cries out for a legislative solution, and what I'm offering is a conservative increase that's fair to injured patients as well as the medical and legal communities." He suggested lifting the cap to $500,000 as a compromise. Some people and organizations in the medical industry have indicated that they are ready to spend more than $30 million to defeat the measure.[3] Tom Scott, executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said that the initiative, if placed on the ballot, could produce the most expensive ballot measure campaign in the state's history.[4]

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