| SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 24
SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 24 Consumer advocates
in California said on Monday they had gathered enough signatures
to place an initiative on the November ballot that would raise a
decades-old state cap on medical malpractice awards to $1.1
The proposed initiative, backed by trial lawyers and the
Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog, would more than quadruple
the amount of money a patient could be awarded for pain and
suffering in a malpractice case - currently capped at $250,000.
Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court said he would wait
until the end of the day on Monday to submit the final
signatures, waiting to see if a legislative compromise that fell
apart last week would be resurrected before an early evening
deadline to submit the signatures for a ballot initiative.
"We are waiting at the behest of legislative leaders to go
forth and put these signatures in across the state," Court told
Reuters in a telephone interview, adding that backers of the
measure had collected 840,000 signatures to get it on the
ballot, far more than the nearly 505,000 required under state
In addition to raising the cap on pain and suffering awards,
the initiative would require random drug testing of doctors in
the wake of growing concern about over-prescription of addictive
pain medications, including among doctors, Court said.
Representatives of patients have tried for at least 20 years
to persuade the state to raise the limit on pain and suffering
awards, which was set in the 1970s and is not indexed to
inflation. Opposition from the California Medical Association
and other representatives of doctors has made such changes
difficult to enact.
"A ballot measure that is certain to generate more medical
lawsuits and drive up costs for every health consumer in
California is the worst possible idea at the worst possible
time," California Medical Association President Richard Thorp
said in a statement.
Hoping to avoid a costly and ugly battle between doctors and
lawyers over the ballot initiative, state senate Democratic
leader Darrell Steinberg last month introduced a bill saying it
was the legislature's intent to bring both sides to the table
and try to bring about a compromise.
Last week, sources close to the negotiations said,
representatives of doctors and lawyers were close to agreeing on
a deal proposed by Steinberg to raise the limit under the
Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, to $500,000.
The talks fell apart on Friday, the sources said, leading to
a decision by Consumer Watchdog and Consumer Attorneys of
California, the state trial lawyers association, to file the
signatures by the end of the day today if the legislature does
"My suggested compromise was to raise the MICRA cap on
damages due to medical malpractice from $250,000 to $500,000,"
Steinberg said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Monday.
"A cap of $500,000 is far below the rate of inflation since
MICRA became law 39 years ago," Steinberg said. "That number is
a reasonable compromise that fairly compensates injured patients
without significant increases in medical costs."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)