By John Wildermuth, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
July 24, 2020
With 12 ballot measures already scheduled for a vote in California in November, the first initiative has qualified for the 2022 election, with two others well on the way.
A measure that would raise the 45-year-old limit on some medical malpractice awards will be on the November ballot in 2022 after backers decided against taking their chances this fall.
While the “Fairness for Injured Patients Act” had by March collected far more than the 623,212 signatures needed to qualify for this year’s ballot, the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic convinced supporters to hold off.
“It was a tough decision,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, which is backing the initiative. But with the virus raging through the state and the economy in recession, he said, it’s uncertain how willing voters will be to back any measure talking about money.
If the past is any indication, the initiative campaign could turn into a high-spending battle between trial lawyers looking to get more money for their clients and doctors anxious to avoid higher malpractice awards. And with doctors and other medical professionals the heroes of the pandemic, initiative supporters decided November might not be the best time for that fight.
In 2014, Proposition 46, which would have raised the $250,000 limit on quality-of-life and survivor benefits set by the Legislature in 1975, was overwhelmingly rejected by voters. But that initiative also would have required hospitals to test some doctors for alcohol and drugs and made doctors consult a statewide database on patients’ prescription-drug histories before prescribing certain medicines.
The new initiative focuses only on malpractice. Arguing that $250,000 today is the same as $50,000 in 1975, the ballot measure would raise the quality-of-life limits by the annual cost-of-living increases since 1975 and continue those increases into the future.
It would also eliminate any cap in cases of catastrophic injury, such as death, permanent disability and permanent disfigurement, and drop a 1987 limit on contingency fees lawyers can collect if they win a catastrophic malpractice case.
Two other potential initiatives also are aiming for 2022, thanks to a boost from the courts.
Backers of a measure that would allow sports betting and dice games at California Indian casinos and another that would set tougher rules for reducing plastic waste each reported in February that they had collected 25% of the signatures needed to make the November 2020 ballot. But California’s shelter-in-place orders and social distancing rules, prompted by the fight against the coronavirus, all but ended signature-gathering efforts.
The two measures faced July deadlines for submitting their needed signatures, but a Sacramento court gave both groups extensions to make up for the time they were in effect banned from collecting signatures.
The plastic recycling measure now has until Sept. 28 to obtain the 623,212 valid signatures needed for the initiative, while the Indian gambling effort has until Oct.12 to collect the 997,139 required for the constitutional amendment.
John Wildermuth is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter; @jfwildermuth