The contents of Senate Bill 1528 are scant but lobbyists for personal injury attorneys and business and insurance industry groups assume that the final language will spark political war and the contending factions are arming for battle over its high financial stakes.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg introduced the bill and moved it through the Senate as virtually an empty shell to be filled in later with language that would completely or partially overturn a 2011 state Supreme Court decision. The case (Howell vs. Hamilton Meats) limited recovery of medical damages in personal injury cases to amounts actually paid, rather than medical providers' bills. Insurers say the decision saved them $3 billion a year in lawsuit payouts.
The lobby for personal injury attorneys, Consumer Attorneys of California, has declared legislation to overturn the decision as its highest legislative priority this year. In response, insurance and business groups have formed a coalition to oppose the bill and with its initial hearing in the Assembly Judiciary Committee scheduled for Tuesday, both sides are ramping up lobbying and public relations campaigns.
Steinberg amended the bill last week, but it still pertains only to recovery of medical costs by counties, which is only tangentially connected to the Howell decision. Opponents, therefore, contend that Steinberg and the lawyer group are planning "phantom amendments" and have posted a You Tube video (above) making fun of the process.