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California Voters May Have Final Say On Medical Malpractice Awards

— A fight over medical malpractice in California may be headed to the ballot box next year.

Aired 7/15/13 on KPBS News.

California's cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases hasn't changed in 38 years. Some say it's time for a change.

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Citizens vote in Los Angeles County on Nov. 6, 2012.

A coalition of attorneys and consumer advocates said they will try to get a measure on the 2014 ballot that would raise the cap on medical malpractice damages.

Since 1975, California law has capped damage awards for pain and suffering at $250,000. That's the maximum someone can collect for non-economic damages even if a doctor is found liable for the death of a patient.

Jamie Court, president of the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog, believes that needs to change. He said the cap dissuades attorneys from taking these kinds of cases.

"Because they have to sink a lot of money into these cases to win them, and that money is going to come out of that $250,000 and there's not going to be much left over for anyone," Court said. "So basically, it's a barrier to getting to court."

Doctors and insurers say raising the damages cap would increase medical costs.

Court disagreed and argued that California voters should be allowed to weigh in on the issue.

Court's coalition will try to start collecting signatures in September. Supporters will need to gather the signatures of 400,000 registered voters to put the issues before the voters in November 2014.

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