MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE: Assembly Tackles Pain, Suffering Cap
Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa's (D-Los Angeles) bid to raise the state's $250,000 cap on pain and suffering awards for medical negligence suffered a blow Monday as a closed-door caucus of the Assembly's 47 Democrats agreed only to support an annual inflation-based increase, the Los Angeles Times reports. Backed by trial lawyers, who last year "funneled millions of dollars" into the coffers of Democrats, Villaraigosa was hoping to convince his colleagues to raise the ceiling to $475,000. Critics have lashed out against the limit for two decades, charging that it "is too low in the face of inflation and the declining quality of health care." Unable to persuade "a dozen or so moderate Democrats to go along," Villaraigosa called even the modest hike "an important first step" and noted that the caucus agreed to form a task force to tackle health care issues. He suggested that the six-member group would address the cap on pain and suffering and may even fold it into "a more comprehensive piece of legislation later this year." The Assembly Judiciary Committee will take up the issue today. On the other side of the aisle, Assembly Minority Leader Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) said his caucus would oppose raising the cap but may settle for "an annual increase tied to the consumer price index." Gov. Gray Davis' position is unclear, the Times reports. During his campaign, one spokesperson "was emphatic that Davis was against lifting the cap." However, another spokesperson said last week that the governor is now "examining the issue." Last year, the Times reports, "Davis received about $2.5 million in campaign donations from trial lawyers."
Karin Caves, a spokesperson for trial lawyers, "denied any tie between campaign donations and the measure," saying, "It's fundamentally unfair that for 24 years nothing has changed for victims of malpractice." However, critics of raising the cap argue that patients' needs are sufficiently covered because there is no compensation restriction for injured patients seeking to recover the cost of medical care and lost income. "It hasn't been demonstrated to me that people do not get their needs taken care of when there has been damage," said Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis). While Thomson opposes changing the limit on the cap, she called the annual increase "rational." But Consumers for Quality Care's Jamie Court said, "Anything short of a complete adjustment for inflation, which would raise the cap to about $800,000, is not going to make a big difference for most patients" (Gladstone, 5/25).