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February 29th, 2012

Doing Trial Lawyers’ Bidding, California Lawmaker Tries to Undo High Court Ruling against ‘Phantom Damages’

ATRA’s Golden State ally, the Civil Justice Association of California, alerts us to the latest legislative skullduggery in Sacramento, where a lawmaker loyal to the state’s politically powerful personal injury bar has introduced a bill that will undo a sound state supreme court ruling last year that eliminated so-called “phantom damages.”

That 6-1 California high court decision in Howell v. Hamilton Meats earned kudos among the ”Points of Light” featured in the latest Judicial Hellholes report (see p. 39).  The court was asked if a plaintiff could recover as economic damages the full amount of initial, pre-discounted medical bills that were never actually paid by the plaintiff, her insurer or anyone else.

To its credit, and while surely cognizant of the soaring health care and health insurance costs that plague California’s citizens, the court emphatically held that “no such recovery is allowed, for the simple reason that the injured plaintiff did not suffer any economic loss in that amount.”

Of course, any reasonable limit on recoverable damages limits the contingency fees with which unreasonable (some might say “greedy”) personal injury lawyers pad their bank accounts.  So the lawyers have since called upon one of their operatives, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, to introduce SB 1528, which would allow injured plaintiffs to recover such phantom damages “without regard to the amount [of the medical bill] actually paid.”

This outrageous legislation serves no logical purpose and can only be seen as a shamelessly blatant attempt by Sen. Steinberg to pay back the trial lawyers for their past and future political support.  If Gov. Jerry Brown doesn’t publicly threaten to veto this bill, should it ever make it through the legislative process, then he’s as cowardly as Sen. Steinberg — too afraid to say “no” to the trial lawyers, even it means that Californians will have to pay more for health insurance.

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