Medical Error Prevention and Medical Malpractice Legislation

A ballot initiative over penBarbara_Boxerding medical malpractice legislation in California, called “one of the nation’s most expensive ballot campaigns” by the Washington Post, received additional support via a television advertisement from Senator Barbara Boxer.  A recent article in the Los Angeles Times explains that Boxer “emerged as a forceful spokeswoman for an initiative to raise some medical malpractice awards in the state.”

Proposition 46, Damage Caps, and Medical Malpractice Legislation

The ballot measure, known as Proposition 46, “would increase the limit on certain medical malpractice damages from $250,000 to approximately $1.1 million.”  Since 1975, non-economic damages have been capped at $250,000.  Unlike economic damages, which typically compensate a victim for hospital bills, medical visits and treatments, and so forth, non-economic damages compensate victims for injuries such as loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, and pain and suffering. Also unlike economic damages, non-economic damages cannot be measured in a fixed dollar amount, and can therefore vary widely from case to case.

According to Senator Boxer, putting a higher cap on medical malpractice damages would help to “prevent medical errors in the first place because there is more at stake.”  In order to prevent medical errors, Proposition 46 would require additional safety practices.  Specifically, it would “require hospitals to randomly test physicians for drugs,” and it also would “[r]equire doctors to check a statewide database of prescriptions before prescribing certain drugs in an effort to curb abuse of those medications.”

Advertising in a Costly Campaign

In the recent advertisement narrated by Boxer, viewers are shown images of children who died because of “preventable medical errors.”  The advertisement does not specifically refer to raising the medical malpractice damages cap, but instead emphasizes that changes to the current medical malpractice law would “hold the medical industry accountable for mistakes.”

Currently, trial attorneys who support Proposition 46, along with consumer and healthcare advocates, have raised approximately $5 million for the campaign.  Opponents of the ballot initiative, who released a television ad in late August, include doctors and malpractice insurers, have raised more than $54 million.  While the opponents are better funded, a spokesperson for a consumer advocacy group emphasized that those in favor of the initiative “will be competitive on television.”

Medical malpractice awards are a very hot topic in California.  News of the ballot initiative to raise the cap for certain compensatory damages even made national news, and California residents eagerly await the November vote.  If you or a loved one has been injured because of medical malpractice, contact an experienced San Diego medical malpractice attorney to discuss your case.

Photo Credit: NGerda via Wikimedia Commons

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