Many political issues seem to have a clear, historical trajectory. In other words, a concern is identified, and then a slow battle proceeds when the concern is addressed until it is generally accepted by the public. Consider classic issues related to civil rights, seat belt laws, consumer safety requirements, and many other matters.
But there are some issues that do not follow that path. Take tort “reform” laws. Various states and the federal government have considered many different apparent “reform” laws over the past few decades. Initially, some pushed these laws (like arbitrary damage caps), under the assumption that medical malpractice lawsuits were connected to rising healthcare costs, doctor shortages, and the like. However, as much more data has come in and many of those laws have passed, the truth became clear.
Medical malpractice lawsuits did not cause rising rates, and passage of these laws did not bring any of the claimed benefits. The only beneficiaries were insurance companies, who are able to rack up even larger profits at the expense of patients suffering the worst injuries as a result of poor medical care.
Since then, many states have tried to roll-back previous laws in an attempt to better ensure legal fairness. On top of that, many high courts have identified constitutional flaws in certain tort reform laws, recognizing underlying principles of separation of powers of inalienable legal rights.
Another State Looking to Protect Patients
For example, just this week, groups out in California are looking at changing laws which have been around for quite some time in order to provide more fairness to patients hurt by professional negligence.
As discussed in an LA Times story, many different advocates are working to push a ballot initiative which would raise the arbitrary cap that currently exists on certain damages that can be obtained in medical malpractice cases. As a testament to the comprehensive nature of the support, a coalition including patients rights attorneys, consumer advocates, and even members of the medical field–the nurses union–are supporting the political maneuvers.
The law in question has been around for nearly four decades. It caps non-economic pain and suffering damages at $250,000. As our injury attorneys have long-noted, these arbitrary caps do nothing other then remove decisions from juries and provide a boon to insurance companies. Even then, having a cap that doesn’t change for decades offers a serious burden on injured parties. To fix that the coalition is hoping to increase the cap to $1 million and peg it to inflation so that, at the very least, it remains functionally the same for the foreseeable future.
As it now stands the supporters are hoping to get the proposal on the state ballot in next year’s election–set to take place in November of 2014. To do so, they need to gather more than 400,000 signatures of voters. They plan to begin the collection process this September. It will undoubtedly be a long slog, and will surely rile up opposition. But it represents an important commitment to fighting back against past actions which unfairly targeted the legal rights of community members.
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