California trial lawyers have made no secret of their intent to nullify the Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc. decision with new legislation this year. Please see our previous blog posts on the Howell decision here and here.
If Howell is nullified or restricted by legislation this year, the changes will be achieved with Senate Bill 1528.
SB 1528 is authored by Senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg and is sponsored by the Consumer Attorneys of California. When the Senate passed SB 1528 on May 30, the bill contained just intent language. It provided, “It is the intent of the Legislature to establish a framework for compensating persons with injuries due to the fault of third parties.”
When SB 1528 arrived in the Assembly, it was assigned to the Assembly Judiciary Committee. On June 27 the bill was amended. As amended, SB 1528 still includes the intent language and also contains provisions which would give counties lien rights to settlements when counties have provided medical services to injured persons.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SB 1528 on July 3. Senator Steinberg and a former president of the Consumer Attorneys of California made no mention of Howell in their opening testimony. They testified that SB 1528 simply extends county lien rights to recover medical expenses to cases that settle before going to judgment.
That testimony was followed by a long line of insurer and business representatives who opposed the bill because they believe that there are plans to amend SB 1528 with Howell nullification language after the bill leaves the committee. Senator Steinberg responded by acknowledging that there are ongoing discussions about further changes to SB 1528 but he assured the committee that if the bill is amended, it will be brought back to the committee for another hearing.
The 11-member Assembly Judiciary Committee approved SB 1528 with a 6-2 vote. SB 1528 is now being sent to the Assembly floor but it won’t be voted on any time soon. Legislators will take their summer recess from July 6 to August 6.
It is expected that sometime during August an effort will be made to amend SB 1528 with provisions affecting the Howell decision. This year’s regular legislative session will end on August 31. It is possible that Howell may emerge as a major issue in the last days, or hours, of the session.