Guv Vetoes Plaintiffs’ Grab For Higher Fees

October 8, 2007 by  
Filed under Lawyers & The Law

The plaintiffs’ bar is nothing if not relentless in pursuit of its agenda — mostly higher fees. After striking out in court decisions for the past few years, the plaintiffs’ bar has shifted its efforts to the political arena. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed one of the plaintiffs’ key measures — S.B. 93 — last Friday (10/5/2007).

The bill would have lifted the cap on medical damages under traditional tort law — but only if the plaintiff’s care was paid for by Medi-Cal. Under Hanif v. Housing Authority (1988) 200 Cal. App. 3d 635, plaintiffs can only recover the amount that Medi-Cal actually paid, which is much less than the “billed” amount thanks to agreed discounts from medical providers. In other words, Medi-Cal patients were treated the same as all other personal injury plaintiffs, who can only recover the actual cost of care. See Nishihama v. City and County of San Francisco (2001) 93 Cal. App. 4th 265.

Under the bill proposed by plaintiffs’ lawyers, juries would not have been permitted to learn the amount actually paid by Medi-Cal in determining the “reasaonble and necessary” amount of medical expenses. Plaintiffs, however, could use the hospital “bill,” which includes amounts written off by the provider that no one is required to pay.

The winner under this plan would have been plaintiffs and their lawyers. They could collect considerably higher medical damages and fees.

In nearly every case, not one penny of this increase would go to the doctors and hospitals who actually treat California’s poor. Aren’t they the ones squeezed by Medi-Cal’s low reimbursement rates? The governor may have thought so. In his veto message, he said he was concerned “that the proposed language would encourage litigation and fail to keep in check medical charges.”

S.B. 93 got to the governor’s desk this year through concerted poltical manuevering by the plaintiffs’ bar (or skulldoggery, according to Republican lawmakers who thought they had killed the measure during budget negotiations). Check out the political scoop on The Recorder’s website.

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