Californians Will Vote Whether to Receive Higher Malpractice Lawsuit Payouts via New Ballot Initiative

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber Photo Source: California Secretary of State Shirley Weber (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In California, a new ballot initiative, the Fairness for Injured Patients Act (FIPA), could turn the current malpractice lawsuit rules on its head. Since 1975, California has mandated that damages in medical malpractice lawsuits be capped at $250,000. This week, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber officially certified this initiative petition for the November 2022 election.

Now, this trending new ballot initiative may offer malpractice victims in the Golden State the chance to reap much higher payouts.

The existing damages cap has stayed the same for forty-five years. Yet inflation has whittled down the worth of the current $250,000 medical malpractice lawsuit cap to be about eighty percent less in today’s economy. Consumer advocates have tried for years to change the cap without success.

The new ballot initiative will go before the public in the November 2022 election.

Since 1975, California has capped damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits at $250,000. Then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the current cap law to deter frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals while also preserving patients’ rights to seek damages in court.

Unlike a failed attempt at removing the cap in 2014, the new ballot will only focus upon one topic: inflation. With an increase to the cap tied to inflation in the latest ballot initiative, pain and suffering damage payments could rise from $250,000 to $1.2 million.

In this new ballot measure, judges and juries may also award damages above and beyond the new $1.2 million cap, specifically for lawsuits involving death or catastrophic injury. Judges would also be required to award attorney fees in such suits.

Charles Johnson became the ballot’s campaign chair after seeing his wife lose her life during childbirth at Cedars Sinai. After giving birth, Kira Johnson died when her bladder was cut by a doctor, after complaining for ten hours of deep pain before dying.

As part of the ballot initiative, supporters, including Johnson, call for fairness in malpractice suits for all people of color.

“This ballot initiative is in large part about fixing a system that does not provide primarily Black and brown families with a fair day in court when they face gross medical negligence,” said Johnson.

A study by the Brookings Institution reports black infants have twice the mortality rate of white infants. The study shares data that babies of Black, middle-class, advanced degree mothers are much more likely to die before their first birthday than white mothers with less than a high school degree.

A group of medical negligence survivors raised over $4 million and collected 900,000 signatures to support FIPA, and submitted their request to the Secretary of State.

If passed, the current malpractice cap from 1975 for $250,000, which is only worth $50,768 in today’s dollars, will be increased due to inflation.

“It’s time for voters to get a chance to change this unjust 45-year-old law and give injured patients and their families a chance to hold the medical insurance complex accountable for its negligence and malfeasance,” said Scott Olsen. He is a board member of Consumer Watchdog.

Twenty-three years ago, Olsen’s then two-year-old son Steven was left blind and brain-damaged due to proven medical negligence. The California Medical Board stated his injuries were caused by "repeated negligent acts and incompetence."

At trial, a jury decided that due to the severity of Steven's injuries and the doctor's extreme negligence, the amount paid to Steven's family should be $7 million.

After the jury left the courtroom, the defendant asked the judge to lower the malpractice payout to the 1975 cap of $250,000.

Steven, who is now thirty-years-old, requires 24/7 care due to his devastating injuries. The original payment for malpractice is long gone.

Diane Lilli
Diane Lilli
Diane Lilli is an award-winning Journalist, Editor, and Author with over 18 years of experience contributing to New Jersey news outlets, both in print and online. Notably, she played a pivotal role in launching the first daily digital newspaper, Jersey Tomato Press, in 2005. Her work has been featured in various newspapers, journals, magazines, and literary publications across the nation. Diane is the proud recipient of the Shirley Chisholm Journalism Award.
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