Medical Negligence

Annette Ramirez and Sen Barbara Boxer

Up to 440,000 people die each year because of medical mistakes. That's the equivalent of a 747 crashing every 10 hours.  Consumer Watchdog fights for the right of those patients--and the thousands of others injured by medical errors--to take negligent doctors and hospitals to court.

If an airliner crashed twice a day, everyday, we would have new laws protecting passengers, not limits on their legal rights.  But doctors, hospitals and their insurance companies spend millions of dollars lobbying Congress and state legislatures to stop us from holding them accountable. They claim that lawsuits by injured patients drive up the cost of medical malpractice insurance. We know that greedy insurance companies, not injured patients seeking justice, are to blame when premiums are excessive.

Below are some resources about our fights for greater patient safety.

Patient Stories

Medical Malpractice Story Library

This is a collection of detailed stories of real Californians who suffered the damage of medical negligence and the injustice of malpractice caps.

Reports & Resources

How Insurance Reform Lowered Doctor's Medical Malpractice Rates In California: And How Malpractice Caps Failed
In this groundbreaking report, Consumer Watchdog shows the success of insurance regulation and dispels the myth that California's malpractice cap -- the model for so many proposals around the country -- is responsible for reducing insurance premiums in the state.

Rate Savings Chart
Rate challenges brought by Consumer Watchdog under insurance reform Proposition 103's public participation process have saved doctors in California $77 million. View the chart detailing each unjustified malpractice insurance rate increase.

Medical Malpractice Premiums Graph
This graph (published in the Sacramento Bee) compares what happened to malpractice insurance premiums after "MICRA," California's damage cap law, passed in 1975 and after the passage of insurance reform Proposition 103 in 1988.

False Accounting: How Medical Malpractice Insurance Companies Inflate Losses to Justify Sudden Surges in Rates and Tort Reform
A Consumer Watchdog study reviewed medical malpractice insurance companies's books and found the insurers consistently inflated the amount they estimated they would pay out in claims. The companies used the overstated figures to justify enormous increases in doctors' premiums and pressure legislators to enact restrictions on patients’ legal rights. Read the press release about the report.

Five Dangerous Myths about California's Medical Malpractice Restrictions
Fact sheet exposing five dangerous myths used to justify California's legal restrictions on injured patients (MICRA).

Rate Regulation, not Arbitrary Caps on Damages, Keeps Insurance Premiums Down 

In this interview with NBC, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones hammers the myth on California’s medical malpractice caps: “But here’s the thing that nobody really talks about, and that is that those caps have not prevented excessive medical malpractice insurance rates. I know this because one of the first things I did as insurance commissioner was look at the medical malpractice insurance rates, and I discovered that the medical malpractice insurers were paying out in claims just a fraction of what they were collecting in premiums from doctors and nurses and other medical providers.”

Changing California’s Medical Negligence Cap Will Not Affect Access To Care or Force Doctors Out of State

A majority of states with no cap have more physicians per capita than California (see graph). In fact, a report found that there are 21% more doctors per capita in states that don’t cap damages than there are in states with caps.

Smoking Guns

Medical malpractice insurance companies have made an art form out of deflecting responsibility for doctors' high insurance rates. The insurers claim that if patients' legal rights are limited--typically with a cap on noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits--then doctors' premiums will drop. But these smoking guns pull back the curtain. When malpractice insurers have to explain their rates to state insurance regulators, they admit that damage caps do little, if anything, to lower medical malpractice insurance rates. We got our hands on a few of those admissions.

Letter from Marsh USA to South Carolina State Legislature
The company running South Carolina's largest medical malpractice insurer testified to the state legislature in 2005 that "our data is just not adequate" to guarantee that a cap on non-economic damages would lower doctors' malpractice premiums.

SCPIE Executive's Testimony in California Court
California's medical malpractice cap has been on the books for thirty-eight years. A Vice President and Actuary of SCPIE, James Robertson, testified in court in 2003 that California's malpractice cap law, known as MICRA, does not reduce the risk of malpractice insurance in California. Pay special attention to page 4.


Consumer Watchdog has provided testimony before the U.S. Congress, as well as state lawmakers in Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Washington and Oregon, regarding the success of insurance reform in California and the failure of malpractice caps to lower doctors’ insurance premiums.

Assessing the Need to Enact Medical Liability Reform
February 27, 2003 -- Consumer Watchdog Founder Harvey Rosenfield presents testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health on the success of California Insurance reform, Proposition 103, in restraining medical malpractice insurance premiums and the failure of the state's severe malpractice liability caps to reduce rates.

HR 4600 Will Harm Patients & Enrich Only Insurers
July 17, 2002 -- Testimony of Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court before U.S. Congress.

Regulating Damages vs. Regulating Insurance Rates: The California Experience
April 22, 2004 -- Testimony of Consumer Watchdog Executive Director Douglas Heller before the Oklahoma state legislature.

Proposition 46: The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act

Troy, 10, and 7-year-old Alana Pack, were killed on a street near their Bay Area home a decade ago by a doctor-shopping prescription drug abuser stoned on Vicodin and vodka. Since then, their Dad, Bob Pack, has been battling to enact changes in state law and medical practices to ensure such a tragedy will never happen again.

Stymied by Sacramento, Bob Pack turned to the ballot for a solution to California's patient safety problem. Proposition 46, the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, would have saved lives by: adjusting the state's $250,000 malpractice damage cap for four decades of inflation; reequring doctors to use the state's prescription drug monitoring program to stem opioid abuste; and mandating random drug testing of doctors to prevent physician substance abuse.  In 2014, Proposition 46 was the most expensive ballot measure campaign in California. The malpractice insurance industry and others in the medical industry spent $58 million dollars on a negative ad campaign to defeat it.  However, over the course of the campaign, every major newspaper in California endorsed the need to adjust the 45-year old compensation cap. Another provision of Proposition 46 would have required doctors to check the state prescription drug database before prescribing opioids. The Pack family might have been spared had the driver’s doctors seen her prescription history and recognized she was doctor-shopping for opioids. The mandate pass was enacted by the legislature in 2016 with the passage of SB 482. That law took effect in October of 2018, and doctors in California must have patients’ prescription histories on hand to help stem the opioid over-prescribing crisis.