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Backers to Submit Petitions for Measure to Raise Damages in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Supporters need 504,760 valid signatures. They'll be turning in about 830,000, they say.

An initiative that may reach the state ballot would raise the limit for which people could sue in medical malpractice cases. Patch file photo.
An initiative that may reach the state ballot would raise the limit for which people could sue in medical malpractice cases. Patch file photo.

Originally posted at 8:40 a.m. March 24, 2014. Edited with new details.

Backers of a wide-ranging initiative that includes raising the limit on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits and requiring random drug and alcohol testing of doctors submitted petitions today with about 830,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

If approved by voters, what backers have dubbed the "Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act," would adjust for inflation the $250,000 limit for pain and suffering damages in medical negligence lawsuits that has been law since 1975.

If the $250,000 limit had been adjusted for inflation since 1975 it would now be $1,090,989.78, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

The measure's provisions also include requiring hospitals to conduct random drug and alcohol testing of doctors who practice there; doctors to report other physicians who appear to be impaired by drugs and alcohol on duty; and reporting of positive tests to the California Medical Board.

It would also require health care practitioners to consult the state prescription drug history database before prescribing certain controlled substances.

The initiative "targets the medical negligence crisis we have in California," according to proponent Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog. "It's the third-leading cause of preventable death and it kills with substance abuse by doctors and over-prescribing by doctors."

The initiative authored by technology executive Bob Pack would result in higher malpractice costs for state and local governments at least in the low tens of millions of dollars, potentially ranging to more than $100 million annually, according to an analysis prepared by the Legislative Analyst's Office and Department of Finance.

The analysis also found the potential state and local government costs associated with changes in the amount and types of health care services potentially range from relatively minor to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The initiative is opposed by more then 700 organizations representing doctors, nurses, hospitals, labor unions, local governments and schools, according to Kim Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, which lobbies the Legislature to reduce what it calls "unwarranted and excessive litigation that increases business and government expense."

The passage of the measure would increase medical liability costs and make it harder to attract doctors to the state, Stone said.

Valid signatures from 504,760 registered voters -- 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 general election -- must be submitted by today to qualify the measure for the November 2014 ballot.

The initiative is named for Pack's son and daughter who were killed when they were struck and killed by a car driven by a drugged driver as they were walking on a sidewalk in Danville with their mother. The crash also killed Pack's unborn twins.

--City News Service


Michael End March 25, 2014 at 05:25 PM
John Webb, there are a number of things you should know. You write that "there is a proven direct correlation between the cost of Medical Malpractice Insurance and the cost of health care." If only that were true. In reality, the aggregate nationwide premiums for medical professional liability insurance has gone down every year for the past six years. The aggregate drop in premiums has been more than 21%, according to the May 2013 edition of Medical Liability Monitor, a publication that tracks premiums charged by the medical liability insurers. That dramatic reduction in aggregate insurance premiums is not surprising in light of the greater than 50% reduction in nationwide payments made by the medical liability insurers to injured patients. Data published by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners show that the aggregate direct losses incurred by the medical professional liability insurers dropped from $8,459,389,539 in 2003 to $4,167,260,437 in 2012. If the statement made in your comment were true, then we would have seen a big reduction in health care costs during, at least, the last six years, when the premiums were reduced by 21%, wouldn't we? The AMA publication referenced in my original comment has some other interesting information that would argue against the position you are taking. Eleven of the top 14 states in the ranking of the number of patient care doctors per 100,000 residents of the state were states without any caps on damages for medical malpractice. Those states, and their rankings, are District of Columbia (1); New York (3); Rhode Island (5); Connecticut (6); Vermont (7); New Jersey (8); Minnesota (9); New Hampshire (10); Pennsylvania (11); Oregon (13); and Illinois (14). Looking at things from the other side of the list of numbers of doctors per population, seven of the ten states with the lowest number of doctors per population have damage caps. Those states are Idaho, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Montana. Your comment mentions "runaway Malpractice business". That is interesting in light of the fact that the number of people compensated nationwide as a result of doctor negligence has declined every year for the last 11 years, from 15,898 in 2001 to 9,194 in 2012, a remarkable reduction of 42%. The numbers are published by the National Practitioner Data Bank, the federal repository for all payments made for injuries caused by doctor negligence. When you consider that an article published in the medical journal Health Affairs in April 2011 determined that there were 1,503,323 people who died or were injured in 2008 as a result of medical errors, the 9,194 people who were compensated last year for doctor errors was a tiny fraction of the people who were actually injured. In fact, that equates to one payment for every 164 people injured by medical error. That is not what I would call a runaway malpractice business. Finally, the heart of this discussion is whether people who are badly injured by medical malpractice in California should receive justice. As I concluded my earlier comment, I do not think the present cap, established in 1975, adequately compensates those people who are most seriously injured by doctor negligence.
John Webb March 25, 2014 at 05:54 PM
I understand your concerns Michael. I know a little bit about the insurance markets and have read your facts carefully. There is much more here, but it would take a book to explain it all. Simple fact is Malpractice Lawsuits have increased the cost of medical care. There are safety nets in place for those who suffer the severe losses you mentioned, because there is not enough money to actually take care of these patients for life. Given that attorneys take of (my guess) 40% of the judgement. Attorneys get rich, health care costs increase and fewer doctors are coming into the business. Just because it feels like we "should do something" does not mean passing more laws adversely affecting everybody. This reminds me of the carbon tax. We need to do something... Life is uncertain, then you die. The government is not the answer, they are the problem. I'll stick with my original view that rich people with an axe to grind is not the answer to a better life for the average working person.
John Webb March 25, 2014 at 06:29 PM
Michael, just read in the L.A. Times the Proposition has been submitted with enough signatures. So this discussion will take up again in the future. Just a quick quote from the Times story....Proponents have raised around $2 million, mostly from trial attorneys for the campaign, much of it to pay for signature gathering. The measure needs around 504,000 verified signatures to qualify for the ballot; proponents submitted 830,000 signatures. http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-micra-initiatve-signatures-20140324,0,5362494.story#ixzz2x13idTF0 There is the argument in a nutshell...Trial Lawyers. Interesting election coming for California.
Eric Andrist March 28, 2014 at 11:51 AM
I think I have to write this in parts, so this is part one. I live in Valley Village. I gave up my career in show business to care full time for my disabled sister in 2003. In March 2012, I took her to St. Joe's with a stomach ache and 2 days later she was dead from medical negligence. Ironically, this is the same hospital where our mother died from hospital acquired sepsis just three months after actor John Ritter died there and his family sued and settled for millions. Just recently I met actress Alicia Cole, who contracted the "flesh eating disease" there and she too is now suing the hospital. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67vDXQMxUz4 You can see my sister's story (Cali Andrist) and many other victim stories at www.38istoolate.com. Anyone who thinks they are immune from medical negligence needs to think again. Imagine if you went to the hospital and came out without your arms and legs due to a hospital acquired infection like Annette Ramirez http://www.38istoolate.com/stories/annette-ramirez/ and Alan Cronin http://www.38istoolate.com/stories/alan-cronin. California doctor's medical malpractice insurance rates are regulated through the Insurance Commissioner and Prop 103. We don't need MICRA to keep their insurance rates low. In fact, MICRA never did keep their rates low, it has been a total failure in what it was set out to do. Even the original author of the law has come forward agreeing that the MICRA cap needs to be raised with inflation. http://goo.gl/TC4D1C The whole medical malpractice "scare" of 1975 was phony to begin with. ONE insurance company, Argonaut Insurance had done poorly in the stock market and needed to recoup their losses, so they concocted the scare. http://goo.gl/Zyan5j Other insurance companies saw a good thing and jumped on the bandwagon and they all started charging doctors astronomical rates for their insurance. As time went on, the doctors who were pissed that their rates were still high, gave in because it had created this new protection from litigation for them. Lawyers were no longer taking medical malpractice cases due to the low $250,000 cap. So in the 39 years that MICRA has been in effect, thousands and thousands of medical malpractice victims have gone without accountability due to this law, and medical malpractice and error rates have soared. So anyone who thinks that the costs of healthcare in this state are the issue needs to think again. First of all, check out this chart of healthcare rates across the country. http://goo.gl/69vWGa The red and orange states are states WITH tort reform. The green and yellow states are states WITHOUT tort reform. It is clear to see that in almost every instance, the states without tort reform have the lower of healthcare costs when compared to their neighboring states. Florida, which recently found at least a portion of their tort reform law to be unconstitutional, had much higher healthcare costs than neighboring Georgia and Alabama, and that was WITH tort reform.
Eric Andrist March 28, 2014 at 11:51 AM
Part two. Remember too, that the people most egregiously affected by MICRA are women who don't work outside the home, senior citizens, children and the disabled. They usually don't qualify to sue for any economic damages. So in the case of my disabled sister, had she lived but in a vegetative state due to the doctor/hospital negligence, the State of California (which is basically all the citizens as taxpayers) would then have become responsible for the cost of her ongoing healthcare to keep her alive until she died. This is the case for any person who only qualifies for the "pain and suffering" damages, who is harmed and then lives with the disability and cannot work and support themselves. The argument ISN'T about "trial lawyers." Without the trial lawyers I wouldn't be able to get to court to hold the negligent doctor and hospital accountable. I couldn't afford the $100,000+ to pay for the court case or the $75,000+ to pay for the lawyer. The lawyers take these cases on a contingency basis; they front all the costs to bring these cases to court on behalf of the victims. They also take on all the liability of losing every cent they put into the case, should the case be lost. I GLADLY would give every cent the jury awards to my lawyer for taking my case, for taking on the huge risk of losing all that money, and for helping me through this very difficult time. People love to badmouth lawyers until they actually need one. With deaths from medical error soaring to the range of 440,000 deaths per year, it's very likely that any of you reading could be next. Are you really going to take the chance that you or a loved one might be harmed by medical negligence and then not be able to get a lawyer because of the MICRA law? And even if you do, have your pain and suffering diminished to $250,000? And remember, no victim would ever see $250,000. You first have to deduct the court costs and lawyer fees. What remains is then in 1975 valued dollars. So $75,000 is about $17,000 in 1975 dollars. If a victim were to live another 30 years, that would equate to about $47 a month for all their pain and suffering. Take a look at the stories on www.38istoolate.com and then come back and try to have the same POV.

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