California to increase medical malpractice payments

People who have been harmed by medical malpractice in California could soon make a lot more money in malpractice lawsuits under an agreement reached on Wednesday that – if approved by the state legislature – would avoid costly ballot box brawls. in November of this year while tackling one of the longest running political battles in the state.

California does not limit the amount of money patients can win in malpractice cases as economic damages, including things that can be counted, such as medical expenses and lost wages. But since 1975, state law has limited the amount of money patients can win for things that can’t be counted, like pain and suffering, to $250,000.

Trial lawyers and patient advocacy groups have tried for decades to raise the limit, with little success, noting that it sometimes costs more to take one of these complex lawsuits to court. Doctors generally oppose raising the limits, saying it will lead to a surge in malpractice insurance premiums, which could lead to the closure of some public clinics.

With neither side budged, California voters were tuned in to resolve the issue in November. The ballot measure will ask voters to tie the limit to inflation, immediately raising it to about $1.2 million. The two sides have collectively raised about $35 million in what is expected to be one of the fiercest campaigns this year.

But on Wednesday, supporters of raising the limit agreed to remove the measure from the November vote. Instead, they supported a new bill in the state legislature that would gradually increase the limit over the next 10 years. The bill has received support from the California Medical Association, California consumer advocates, Californian patient protection allies, state legislature leaders, and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said he would sign it into law.

“This is an important win for the stability and health of our healthcare system, and for patients across California,” Newsom said.

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The agreement, starting next year, will raise the limit to $350,000 for people who were injured and $500,000 for the families of those who died. These limits will gradually increase over the next decade until 2033, when they will reach $750,000 for injured patients and $1 million for families of deceased patients. After that, the limits will increase by 2% every year to keep up with inflation.

Patients can win more money because the restriction will apply to both healthcare providers and institutions. This means that a patient suing the doctor and the hospital can win up to $350,000 each. Patients may also receive damages from a third provider or facility if they are not affiliated with the first two.

According to Dustin Corcoran, CEO of the California Medical Association, raising the cap gradually over 10 years ensures medical malpractice premiums don’t rise too quickly for doctors.

“What you see is a reflection of what you are listening to, understanding and appreciating where both coalitions came from,” Corcoran said.

Medical malpractice cases are among the most expensive and difficult to prove because juries tend to trust doctors, according to Craig Peters, president of California Consumer Lawyers. Peters said that he dismisses almost all medical malpractice lawsuits “because I have to explain to the poor victims that the law is what it is and it just makes the lawsuit unprofitable from a monetary point of view.”

He said he hopes this new compromise will bring both sides to a point where they can work more together on future legislation.

“It took hundreds of people who have been fighting this fight over the years to get us to this point,” Peters said.

Once the law is approved and comes into force, the restrictions will only apply to malpractice cases filed after January 1. That means they won’t apply to the case of Charles Johnson, whose wife Kyra died in 2016 after her bladder was cut during surgery. cesarean section. Johnson’s case is due to go to trial next month.

However, the news of the agreement came as a relief to Johnson, who led the campaign to increase the limits.

“All these families will tell you that beyond the financial implications, we want fairness, transparency and accountability,” he said. “While this piece of legislation will not affect Kira’s case, I am pleased that other families will have access to civil justice.”

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