Possible Lifting of Cap on Medical Malpractice Damages

A grieving father, lawyers, and consumer advocates have come together to fight to raise the award cap on medical malpractice lawsuits. The limit is currently set at $250,000, and has not changed since the mid-70’s.

In 1975, the Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill capping pain and suffering damages at $250,000. And that’s what it still is today.

If that $250,000 had been indexed to keep up with inflation, it would be worth $1.1 million.

Put another way, today’s $250,000 would have been worth $57,600 back in 1975.

There is no cap, however, on awards for economic losses—such as from potential income or for healthcare costs. If someone’s death from medical negligence puts the family in a bad financial strait, or the person requires expensive caregiving, the sky’s the limit.

But mere pain and suffering is worth only $250,000 tops, and frequently not even that.

So a ballot initiative proposed by consumer activists, trial lawyers and a wealthy, irate father whose two children died because of medical carelessness was submitted Wednesday to the state attorney general. After the AG writes a title and summary, the initiative will be circulated for signature-gathering to qualify it for the November 2014 ballot.

The measure would adjust the cap for inflation, raising it to $1.1 million. And it would require annual inflation adjustments.

“All we’re really talking about is putting the law back in place where it began,” says initiative strategist Chris Lehane, who once worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Los Angeles Times, 24 July 2013.

Robert Pack, a local father, became an advocate for reform after his two children were killed by a driver who was high on prescription pain medication. He then sued the medical group who prescribed hundreds of pills to the driver, but was unable to obtain an award in excess of $250,000. Pack said, “I personally feel that the loss of my two children is worth a lot more than $250,000.” His pregnant wife was also struck by the driver, and lost the twins she was carrying in the process.