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Hope dimming for changes to California medical malpractice awards cap

Friday, August 16, 2013

Legislative leaders say the prospects of changing the limits of medical malpractice awards are dimming. Since the 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, damages in California for doctor negligence have been limited to $250,000.

NetZero pioneer Bob Pack is now turning his efforts to a ballot initiative, trying to convince people that a life is worth more than $250,000 -- an amount so low, lawyers often refuse to take these cases.

"The most you can still collect is $250,000. You can't even get to court for $250,000. So therein lies the catch 22. That needs to be adjusted for inflation," said Pack.

A decade ago, MICRA limited how much Pack could receive after suing the doctors he says carelessly over-prescribed medication to a woman who ended up driving impaired and ran over and killed his two children, Troy and Alana.

The Pack ballot measure would require random drug and alcohol testing of doctors and mandate the medical profession use a state database that keeps track of prescriptions. But the main component is to raise the $250,000 medical malpractice ceiling to $1.1 million and allow it to adjust for inflation.

Dr. Paul Phinney, president of the California Medical Association, is an opponent of changing MICRA. The pediatrician says all that would do is drive up costs.

"It will increase meritless lawsuits, which will increase lawyer fees, increase health care costs, decrease access to care and won't do anything to improve the quality of medical care," said Phinney.

If Pack gathers enough signatures, the initiative will likely spur an expensive campaign. The medical establishment, lawyers and consumer groups all have deep pockets.

Lawmakers can avoid the ballot fight if they bring all the parties together and come up with a solution before session ends in less than a month.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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