PD Editorial: Keeping the courts open to injured parties

  • Dr. Karl Riggle, surgeon and founder and committee head of Save Our Doctors, Protect Our Patients Coalition, makes closing remarks during a news conference urging medical liability reform Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004 in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Matthew S. Gunby)

In the spring of 1975, physicians in the Bay Area walked off the job. The strike, triggered by a fourfold increase in malpractice insurance premiums, soon spread across the state.

Doctors, hospitals and patients were shaken.

With two major insurers threatening to cancel negligence policies in the state, the Legislature met in special session and enacted a law limiting the size of malpractice judgments to $250,000 for non-economic damages.

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, better known by the acronym MICRA, ended the crisis.

It also perpetuated a political war between two of the biggest spending interest groups in the state — physicians and plaintiffs' lawyers. And, over time, it made it increasingly difficult for people of ordinary means to pursue medical malpractice claims.

The next MICRA battle is looming — a potential 2014 ballot initiative to repeal the law.

That campaign would be the political equivalent of a nuclear war and, like a conflict between the superpowers, it should be stopped before it starts.

Thirty-second ads and sloganeering are no way to address a complex issue or to scrutinize a law that, though it serves a valuable purpose, may be due for some adjustments. However, if there are any changes, they should be made with a scalpel, not a meat ax.

In that spirit, Senate President Darrell Steinberg wants doctors and lawyers to come to the bargaining table before heading to the polls.

"The best way that can actually get done is with real conversation, real negotiations between the affected stakeholders," the Sacramento Democrat told reporters last week.

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