A doctors' group sponsoring an initiative to limit "pain and suffering" awards in medical-malpractice cases submitted about 315,000 petition signatures to the Secretary of State's...

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A doctors’ group sponsoring an initiative to limit “pain and suffering” awards in medical-malpractice cases submitted about 315,000 petition signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office yesterday.

That means voters may face dueling liability-reform initiatives on the statewide ballot next November — Initiative 330, backed by doctors and hospitals, and its rival, I-336, supported by lawyers and injured patients.

The battle has already begun. Opponents of I-336 say the measure is about lining lawyers’ pockets. Their rivals counter that I-330 protects negligent doctors and punishes the victims.

“There will be a good initiative and an evil initiative. There will be an initiative that solves the problem, and an initiative that is vindictive, cynical retribution, pure and simple,” said Tom Curry, spokesman for the Washington State Medical Association, which organized and funded the I-330 group, Doctors for Sensible Lawsuit Reform.

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The Secretary of State’s Office now must certify the petitions delivered for both initiatives.

It appears that I-330 easily has enough signatures. It takes 225,014 valid signatures to qualify an initiative to the Legislature in the upcoming session. Supporters of I-336 — the Citizens for Better Safer Healthcare — submitted about 200,000 signatures a month ago and will deliver more petitions this week.

Once certified, the measures will head to the Legislature, where lawmakers have three options for each initiative: pass it into law as proposed, reject it and send it to the ballot, or pass an amended version. In that case, the alternative and the original measure would both go to voters.



Information




Initiative 330:

www.yesoni330.org


Initiative 336:

www.bettersafercare.org


Whichever way lawmakers go, it appears some decision on malpractice liability will wind up on the ballot.

I-330 would:

• Limit noneconomic damages — “pain and suffering” awards — to between $350,000 and just over $1 million, depending on the number of defendants. There’s no cap on actual damages, which includes hospital bills and lost wages.

• Apply a sliding-scale cap to attorneys’ fees. Limits would range from 40 percent of the first $50,000 to 15 percent of any amount over $600,000.

• Require mediation before a patient could file suit.

• Prohibit lawsuits brought more than three years after the alleged malpractice.

• Allow juries to know all other sources of payment to the patient.

For the past two years, doctors have asked the Legislature to limit noneconomic damages. They say an unfair legal system and rising malpractice-insurance costs are threatening their ability to care for patients.

“I-330 is balanced and fair and means more money to the injured party,” Curry said. “I-336 is just about trial-attorney income.”

Dylan Malone, spokesman for I-336, calls the rival initiative “a very narrow-minded approach.”

“I-330 punishes the victim,” he said of the award caps. “And the more serious the case, the more 330 will affect you.”

His own initiative, he says, “tackles the malpractice crisis by holding everyone accountable — bad doctors, insurance-company practices and lawyers who bring frivolous lawsuits.”

If passed, I-336 would:

• Revoke licenses of doctors who have three jury verdicts against them in 10 years for preventable medical injuries.

• Require disclosure of a provider’s malpractice history to patients who ask.

• Outlaw secret settlements in malpractice cases.

• Sanction lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits.

• Require providers to promptly release records relating to adverse medical incidents.

• Create a supplemental insurance fund for doctors and hospitals.

Reporter Carol M. Ostrom contributed to this story. Julia Sommerfeld: 206-464-2708 or jsommerfeld@seattletimes.com