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SACRAMENTO, Calif.-The California Legislature is considering several business-related proposals this session. A summary of some of the key legislation follows:
California employers would be required to extend health care coverage to domestic partners under A.B. 1059, introduced by Assembly woman Carole Migden. The bill would apply to all health care service plans, disability insurance and self-insured employee benefit plans that provide hospital, medical or surgical benefits.
The bill would require that group health care plans treat domestic partners as any other eligible dependent.
Two bills-A.B. 250, introduced by Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, and A.B. 1220, by Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa-would repeal the statutory $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits under certain conditions.
The cap would be eliminated in cases where the health care provider's conduct involves or results in: substance or sexual abuse; gross negligence; injury to children under age 14; death; failure to refer patients to qualified specialists; refusing or delaying diagnosis or treatment for economic gain; or diagnosis or treatment by unqualified personnel.
Courts would have more authority over punitive damage awards under a bill backed by Gov. Pete Wilson.
A.B. 1371, introduced by Assemblyman Bill Morrow, also would require courts to reduce punitive damage judgments by the amount of any prior judgments the defendant already paid for the same conduct.
Insurers would be permitted to raise rates for commercial property/
casualty lines by up to 15% without prior approval under S.B. 859, introduced by Sen. John Lewis.
The bill would amend Proposition 103, which subjects all insurance rate increase requests in California to prior approval by the commissioner.
S.B. 1278, introduced by Sen. Tim Leslie, would prohibit workers from filing wrongful termination suits unless the firing breached an express contract or violated the company's personnel policies or public policy.
The bill also would cap damages for loss of future earnings at the amount reasonably expected to be earned in the five-year period after termination.
Another bill backed by the California Chamber of Commerce would limit damages for loss of future earnings in wrongful termination cases to the amount reasonably expected to be earned in a one-year period after judgment, unless the worker had a fixed term of employment.
The measure-A.B. 1171, introduced by Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian-also would bar constructive discharge lawsuits, such as when employees leave due to sexual harassment, unless the worker provides the employer notice of the alleged conditions and gives the employer adequate time to correct them.
A.B. 237, introduced by Assemblywoman Liz Figueroa, would increase the vocational rehabilitation benefit cap of $16,000 in workers compensation cases by also allowing for an additional payment of up to $4,500 in counseling fees.
S.B. 370, introduced by Sen. Hilda Solis, would extend presumption of work-related cancer to painters. Currently, cancer contracted by firefighters and peace officers is presumed to be work-related if they can demonstrate occupational exposure to known carcinogens.
S.B. 339, introduced by Sen. Byron Sher, would let common-interest development homeowner associations file construction defect suits on behalf of members and specify that violation of building codes is negligence per se in construction defect cases.
The bill runs counter to the building industry's attempts to limit their liability in such construction defect cases (BI, Feb. 10).
A.B. 1309, introduced by Assemblyman Michael Machado, would prohibit the Montrose Chemical Corp of America vs. Admiral Insurance Co. decision from being applied in construction defect insurance coverage cases. Under Montrose's continuous trigger theory, all insurers that wrote liability coverage for a contractor could be forced to respond to a latent defect claim.
It is backed by the Coalition for Quality Affordable Housing, which also plans to seek tort reform to limit contractor liability (BI, Feb. 10).
A.B. 843, introduced by Assemblyman Jan Goldsmith, would require courts to grant summary judgment if no reasonable jury would find for the non-moving party on their claim or defense.
S.B. 48, also introduced by Sen. Solis, would make it easier for workers to prove sexual harassment by liberalizing the definition of unlawful employment practice to include a "hostile work environment" as perceived by "a reasonable person similarly situated" to the complainant.
Current law considers an employment practice unlawful only if a "reasonable person" would consider it so.