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California voters may be able to increase malpractice cap

Under California law, plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits cannot get more than $250,000 for pain and suffering damages. This cap was set back in 1975, and there have been no increases to it in the nearly 45 years since.

That could change in Nov. 2020 if voters agree with a proposed ballot initiative to raise that cap with inflation. If it had been increased over the years at the inflation rate, it would now be over $1.2 million. That's according to the filing for the "Fairness for Injured Patients Act."

The three people behind the ballot initiative had young children who were the victims of medical malpractice. Two of them, a couple, say that their baby daughter suffered permanent injuries following surgery and will need care for the rest of her life. Their lawsuit is pending. Her mother says, "The jury …should be free to make a full decision that addresses her life-long injuries that is not overridden by the one-size-fits-all compensation cap set 45 years ago by politicians…."

The third person says that his young son's head injury was made worse due to medical malpractice. Although a jury awarded the family $7 million, that was reduced significantly due to the cap.

For the initiative to get on the ballot, those behind it must collect signatures from over 623,000 people. That number represents 5% of the people who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election.

However, it's not necessarily smooth sailing from there. One group likely to oppose it is Californians Allied for Patient Protection (CAPP). The coalition of medical groups has previously argued that raising medical malpractice payouts would increase health care costs.

The head of that group says that they are still reviewing this new initiative, but "we know it includes many provisions that would hurt access to health care, especially for California's most vulnerable populations." Claims like this have helped the group defeat at least one other ballot initiative designed to protect patients.

If you are considering pursuing a malpractice suit, it's essential to know how much compensation you can and should seek. An experienced attorney can help you work to determine the amount needed to cover the costs of long-term care and treatment as well as noneconomic damages like pain and suffering.

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