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California Challenge to Medical Malpractice Caps Delayed Until 2022 Ballot

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Last December we reported that the medical malpractice initiative, Fairness for Injured Patients Act, would likely be included on the November 2020 ballot. The initiative aims to increase the current $250,000 cap on the maximum allowable award for medical malpractice lawsuits.

Under the cap, which is specific to the state of California, a victim is allowed to collect for actual economic losses such as healthcare expenses and lost income. However, if a victim of medical malpractice does not have an income — such as a child, student, or a retiree — under the law they have no wages to lose, and therefore cannot claim such damages even in situations of permanent disability or death. In such cases, the victim’s caretakers or survivors are essentially limited to damages of $250,000 for pain and suffering.

Last week the Associated Press reported that due to fallout from the coronavirus pandemic the initiative, which “likely would have been one of the most expensive California ballot battles leading up to this November’s election,” has been delayed until the 2022 ballot.

Had the proposal made the 2020 ballot and passed, it would have raised the limit for damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits from the $250,000 cap set in 1975 to more than $1.2 million. Moreover, the initiative would have stipulated mandated increases in those figures commensurate with inflation.

A similar proposal made the 2014 ballot, but was rejected by two-thirds of voters. Supporters of the initiative felt the result was a largely due to being overmatched by a coalition of medical groups opposing the initiative that managed to raise nearly $60 million in an effort to defeat it.

Opponent organizations, such as the Californians Allied for Patient Protection, have stated publicly that they feel the proposed initiative for 2020 would have harmed many patients’ access to quality health care.

On top of the ongoing battles between the two sides, the COVID-19 pandemic is complicating matters further. Even supporters of the initiative recognize that the timing for such an initiative isn’t ideal. “Voters are overwhelmed with trying to keep their families safe and deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19,” one of the lead proponents, Consumer Watchdog board member Scott Olsen, said in a statement. “It will be more productive to have this conversation when everything stabilizes.”

Consumer Watchdog confirmed that it had collected 100 million signatures, far in excess of the 623,000 required to put the measure on the November ballot. Given the coronavirus pandemic, however, it was ultimately their decision to postpone the initiative until the 2022 ballot.