A group of medical malpractice survivors and advocates are pushing for a 2020 ballot measure in California that would target the state's notoriously low pain and suffering damage cap. The group has launched a campaign to get enough signatures on a petition to add the Fairness for Injured Patients Act (FIPA) to the ballot. The FIPA will target a compensation cap passed in 1975 and never once adjusted for inflation or other factors. Currently, no matter how serious injuries stemming from a medical error may be, California victims of medical malpractice have their damages capped at $250,000 for non-economic losses, such as quality of life. This figure has remained stagnant for about 45 years.
California juries are not informed of the damage cap. Scott Olsen, one of the two official proponents of FIPA, is father to Steven Olsen. When Steven was two years old, he was denied a CT scan, which would have saved him from both blindness and cerebral palsy. Scott brought a medical malpractice claim for his son's injuries. A jury awarded Steven $7 million for lost quality of life and a lifetime of disability. After the jury left the room, the judge immediately slashed the verdict to $250,000, in compliance with the existing damage cap.
The Fairness For Injured Patients Act seeks to not only raise the damage cap to $1.2 million to adjust for inflation but also to carve out exceptions for death and catastrophic injury. Additionally, juries would be informed of the cap when deciding a medical malpractice case.
There are many other proponents working to get signatures for the petition. Retired Senator Barbara Baxter has come out in support of the measure, stating that, "It is long past time to adjust the cap for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases...I have carried this issue in my heart for many years since I met victims who never had a fair chance to recover equitable damages because of some backroom special interest deal." Boxing legend Sugar Shane Mosley is also supporting the petition. During a surgical procedure, an instrument burned the nerves in his forearm nowhere near the surgery site, thereby ended his ability to box professionally. Speaking to news outlets, the retired boxer said, "I can't fight professionally anymore because of medical negligence, but I will be fighting for the Fairness For Injured Patients Act to win civil rights back for California patients and families that insurance companies and politicians took away in 1975."
Advocates will need to submit 623,212 voter signatures by the beginning of May in order to qualify the measure for the November ballot.