Doctors, Trial Lawyers (Finally) Come to an Agreement

After years of wrangling over whether or not to raise the state’s nearly five-decades-old cap on medical malpractice awards, California lawmakers and advocates both pro and con have finally reached a deal.

The legislative agreement will raise the existing $250,000 lid on noneconomic damages and allow for future increases to account for inflation. In a wrongful death case, the cap increases to $500,000. The limit will increase every year until it reaches $1 million. If the case did not involve wrongful death, the cap starts at $350,000 and will increase each year by $40,000 until it reaches $750,000, according to a summary from the Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom signed the bill into law on May 23.

“I’m proud to have worked together with all stakeholders to get this done,” Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes said in a statement. “AB 35 provides a better system for both providers and patients, creating a fair process that will have a real impact on Californians for decades to come.”

The agreement replaces an initiative scheduled for the November state ballot. Sponsored by an advocacy group and the state’s trial attorneys, the Fairness for Injured Patients Act, as it was known, would have raised the current cap to about $1.2 million, with subsequent adjustments keyed to inflation. It would have also permitted judges and juries to exceed cap limits in cases in which a patient died or suffered a catastrophic injury.

Doctors and consumer advocates have hailed the measure as a victory.

In a letter distributed to members, Robert E. Wailes, MD, president of the California Medical Association, said: “The two sides of the ballot measure campaign have committed to putting patients first, to prioritizing the stability of affordable access to health care, and to set aside differences to do what’s right for all Californians.”

For its part, Consumer Watchdog, sponsor of the ballot measure, said the measure will fundamentally change ways a patient can find justice when he or she is harmed by medical negligence.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA, is an independent journalist based in Mahwah, New Jersey.

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