By Aaron Pelc, LAW360

May 4, 2020…

Law360 (May 4, 2020, 7:35 PM EDT) -- The postponement of a campaign to raise a California cap on pain and suffering damages leads Law360's Tort Report, which compiles recent personal injury and medical malpractice news that may have flown under the radar.

COVID-19 Delays Calif. Damages Cap Ballot Initiative

A consumer advocacy group seeking to use a ballot initiative to significantly increase California's cap on so-called noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases has announced that it's postponing the campaign due to uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Consumer Watchdog on Thursday said it had already collected nearly 100 million signatures — well over the 623,000 it needed to put the measure on the November ballot — but decided to postpone the initiative until the 2022 election.

Nick Rowley, a personal injury plaintiffs attorney who has been spearheading the group's efforts, told Law360 that the timing wasn't right for the ballot measure given insurance industry lobbyists' ongoing efforts to immunize health care providers from liability during the crisis.

"The insurance industry will cloud people's judgment," he said, adding that the battle will be moved to 2022, "when we will have a fair fight and we will win."

The present cap was set at $250,000 in 1975, when California enacted the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. But the cap has never been adjusted for inflation, and Consumer Watchdog wants it lifted to approximately $1.2 million.

In addition, the group's proposal has a provision that would allow judges and juries to decide whether to waive the cap in cases involving catastrophic injuries or death. Currently, juries are not told of the existence of the cap, the group said.

"Voters are overwhelmed with trying to keep their families safe and deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19," Scott Olsen, a Consumer Watchdog board member, said in a statement Thursday. "While we are constantly hearing from more Californians harmed by medical negligence who have been denied accountability because of this 45-year-old law, it will be more productive to have this conversation when everything stabilizes."

--Editing by Aaron Pelc.