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Tuesday, June 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Initiative would seek malpractice-suit caps
By Carol M. Ostrom
Doctors, through the Washington State Medical Association, have failed in attempts to persuade legislators to pass measures capping payouts on lawsuits. They've been blocked the past two legislative sessions by Democratic leaders who say the complex problem won't yield to a single fix.
Democrats have argued that capping noneconomic damages would discriminate against certain patients, particularly women and the elderly who may not receive much for economic losses. Noneconomic damages compensate for pain and suffering, while economic damages cover lost wages and other costs.
In a statement released yesterday, the initiative sponsors said doctors were "frustrated by the lack of action to pass meaningful liability reform" and hoped the initiative would break the "gridlock in Olympia."
The group has until Dec. 31 to gather 197,734 signatures from registered Washington voters. If it succeeds, the initiative will go to the Legislature, which, by law, would have three choices:
It could adopt the initiative as proposed. If that happens, the initiative would become law without being sent to the ballot.
It could reject or take no action on the proposal. If the Legislature did that, the initiative would go onto the ballot in the fall of 2005.
It could approve an alternative version of the proposal. In that case, both the original measure and the alternative would go on the fall 2005 ballot.
The group plans to announce details of the initiative Thursday.
Preliminary indications were that it would deal strictly with medical-malpractice-lawsuit issues and would impose a sliding scale of caps for noneconomic damages in lawsuits.
People familiar with the initiative said it would be similar to legislation passed by the state Senate in the last session that would have enacted caps of $350,000 for such damages.
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or email@example.com
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