Where's Jerry? Ralph Nader Wants to Know

Annette Ramirez is a fighter. She’s had to be, ever since a doctor’s error during surgery cost her two years of her life and all four of her limbs.

Yet, when she went to hold the negligent health care providers responsible, she learned that a 40-year-old law says her lifetime of pain and suffering, the loss of two years of her kids’ lives, and everything she will never do again is worth no more than $250,000 in court.

The law is California’s malpractice damage cap, and it’s been on the books since the last time Jerry Brown was governor in 1975. Over those 40 years it has never been adjusted for inflation. The cap is worth less than $60,000 in today’s dollars.

Ralph Nader is crusading for Governor Brown to change the law. Brown is, after all, responsible for enacting it and the Democrats enjoy a near-supermajority in the state legislature.

What do Californians hear from Brown? Radio silence.

Nader took Brown to task for his inaction last week, telling LA Times columnist David Lazaraus: “Jerry has a moral and political responsibility here.”

Back then, the law was passed because the doctor lobby claimed litigation was driving up malpractice insurance premiums. Since then, we’ve learned there was no malpractice insurance crisis – just a crisis of greed in the malpractice insurance industry.

As then-civilian Jerry Brown wrote in a letter to Ralph Nader in 1933:

“We have learned a lot about MICRA and the insurance industry in the seventeen years since MICRA was enacted. We have even witnessed yet another insurance crisis, and found that insurance company avarice, not utilization of the legal system by injured consumers, was responsible for excessive premiums. Saddest of all, MICRA has revealed itself to have an arbitrary and cruel effect upon the victims of malpractice.”

A child, a low wage earner, or a senior harmed by negligence has a hard time finding an attorney to represent them because malpractice cases are expensive and risky, and the damage caps limit doctors' accountability even when you win.

Why would the governor ignore this injustice when he seemed passionate about fixing it in 1993? Could the persuasive campaign cash and influence-peddling of the state's biggest lobby, the medical industry, play a role?

The California Medical Association - AKA the Doctors' Lobby - gave Jerry Brown $54,400 for his last race for governor, and ponied up $100,000 for the governor's biggest priority on last year's ballot, Props 1 and 2.

The Doctors Company and Cooperative of American Physicians, two of California's largest medical malpractice insurance companies, gave $54,400 each to Brown's candidate committee, and made another $15,000 in contributions to his favorite charity this year.

And the biggest lobbyist in Sacramento in 2015, the California Hospital Associaton, spent $6.9 million lobbying in the first six months of the year, including the governor's office. They also gave the governor's Oakland charter school $5,000.  The California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems gave the same schools $25,000.

They're all dead set against rational laws to compensate injured patients and hold dangerous doctors accountable, and showed their willingness to spend millions to keep the damage cap in place by pouring $60 million into their campaign against Proposition 46. Defeated at the ballot in November, Prop 46 would have updated the cap for 40 years of inflation.

Governor Brown is spending his last term pursuing big plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and convert the state to clean energy -- plans that could cement California in history as the place the climate tide turned. He blackens that legacy by abandoning the state’s most vulnerable and letting the damage cap stand. MICRA's 40-year-old debt has come due for Jerry Brown.

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