HMO REFORM: Trial Lawyers Flex ‘Political Muscles’
The Consumer Attorneys of California "are flexing their political muscle after helping" elect Gov. Gray Davis and have assembled an agenda to push in the new legislative session, the Los Angeles Times reports. This agenda, according to the trial lawyers, will reform laws that "protect business interests at the expense of consumers," such as the cap on medical malpractice awards and the ban on members suing their HMOs. The group's leader, Newport Beach attorney Mark Robinson, "said public opinion is changing as it dawns on people that they have limited recourse ... if they are mistreated by their HMO." Even so, according to many observers, "the newly enfranchised trial bar won't go hog wild in proposing legislation," especially since Davis "has sold himself as a moderate and is expected to follow the middle road." State Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) said, "They won't go for the moon or the jugular." Besides focusing on giving Californians the right to sue their HMOs and changing the state's $250,000 limit on malpractice awards, the lawyers' agenda would give "injured parties the right to sue negligent persons' insurance companies for 'bad faith' in processing claims" and would ban "secret settlements of lawsuits."
Time To Worry?
According to the Times, trial lawyers "contributed about $8.6 million to statewide and legislative races" and Robinson's firm "pumped $140,000 into Davis' gubernatorial campaign." Business interests and others opposed to tort reform are "worried about the future," the Times reports. The day after the elections, the Association for California Tort reform's Web site read: "It is clear that those fighting for balance in California's civil justice system face the biggest challenge in 20 years." The Times reports that the tort reform group "recently launched a public relations salvo to highlight the high cost of litigation to public agencies ... to remind the public that taxpayers foot the bills" for lawsuits (Hill-Holzman, 1/18). Click here for previous coverage of HMO reform's chance under the new administration.