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Watchdog Group, Father Begin Medical Malpractice Initiative Campaign

LOS ANGELES TIMES MONEY & CO. BLOG

SACRAMENTO -- Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog and the father of two children killed by a drug-abusing driver have taken the first step toward waging an initiative campaign to raise limits on medical malpractice "pain and suffering" jury awards.

The proposed law, which was submitted for title and summary to the attorney general's office Thursday, needs petitions with valid signatures from 504,760 registered voters. Supporters hope to qualify for the November 2014 general election ballot.

The campaign wants voters to change a 38-year-old California law that puts a $250,000 cap on the amount of money that juries can award for non-economic damages resulting from a medical provider's malpractice. A key element would hike the cap by accounting for inflation since 1975 and then adjusting it annually as needed. In today's dollars, the current cap would be about $1 million.

The proposal also would require mandatory drug and alcohol testing for doctors and mandatory use by doctors of an electronic database that tracks prescriptions dispensed in California.

"This ballot measure begins to even the balance of power for innocent patients who are victimized by medical negligence and protects against dangerous and drug-abusing doctors," said Bob Pack of Danville, the father involved in the campaign.

His children were killed while walking along a road after being hit by a drug-abusing driver, who stockpiled thousands of powerful prescriptions that had been overprescribed to him by various physicians.

Pack's wife was injured and the two unborn twins she was carrying died.

A coalition of healthcare providers, including doctors, clinics and hospitals, has denounced the proposed initiative as an effort by attorneys to make more money from filing more malpractice lawsuits.

It also would drive up medical costs, the group argued.

"At a time when hospitals and healthcare providers are attempting to lower costs and prepare for an influx of new patients, any attempt to increase lawsuit payouts will harm patient access and increase costs," said C. Duane Dauner, chief executive of the California Hospital Assn.