Initiative to increase medical malpractice lawsuit caps in California withdrawn after legislative compromise reached

On May 19, the sponsors of an initiative to increase California’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits withdrew the ballot measure from the 2022 ballot after reaching a legislative compromise with legislators.

 In 1975, the cap was set at $250,000. The ballot initiative would have required an annual adjustment of the cap based on inflation. The ballot initiative would have also allowed judges and juries to award damages above the cap for catastrophic injuries, defined as death, permanent physical impairment, permanent disfigurement, permanent disability, or permanent loss of consortium.

The initiative had qualified for the ballot in July 2020 after filing 910,667 signatures, of which 688,142 were valid.

On April 27, 2022, the sponsors of the initiative announced that a legislative compromise was going to be introduced that would raise the legal cap on pain and suffering awards to $350,000 beginning Jan. 1, 2023. The proposed law would also increase the cap over 10 years to a maximum of $750,000. The cap for cases involving a patient’s death would increase to $500,000 beginning Jan. 1, 2023, and increase up to $1 million over 10 years. Following the decade increase, the cap would be adjusted by 2% annually. Assembly Bill 35 was amended on April 27 to include the changes. On May 5, the state Senate passed AB 35 in a vote of 37-1 with two absent. On May 12, the state Assembly passed the bill in a vote of 66-0 with 12 absent. The bill is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) signature.

Nick Rowley, one of the sponsors of the initiative, said, “After nearly 50 years of inaction on a law that capped the value of human life and losing my own son to medical negligence, I wrote and funded the Fairness for Injured Patients Act to effectuate much-needed change. I never envisioned a legislative compromise, but I’m very proud that our work has led us to this point. When this becomes law, we will have changed history for the better.”

In California, the proponents of a ballot initiative can withdraw their proposal after signatures are verified, as long as the proposal is withdrawn at least 131 days before the general election. For the 2022 general election, the deadline is June 30. This process was adopted in 2014 with the enactment of Senate Bill 1253 (SB 1253). Since the adoption of the law, the proponents of seven citizen-initiated ballot measures have withdrawn their proposals after qualifying for the ballot.

Additional reading: