Senate Bill 447 (“S.B. 447”), which proposes a change to the current California law to allow recovery of noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, after a plaintiff dies is headed to the governor’s desk after the state Senate approved amendments by the Assembly. Currently, California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.34 limits damages solely to economic damages if a plaintiff dies before judgment enters. As amended, the bill attempts to alter Section 377.34 and would no longer exclude noneconomic damages if the cause of action or proceeding was granted a preferential trial date before 2022, or if it was filed between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2026. The call for change in procedure comes after lobbying from interest groups primarily consisting of plaintiff attorneys, who stand to benefit if this proposed legislation is enacted.
After passing in the state Senate, the Assembly revised the bill to further limit the scope of S.B. 447 and added a reporting requirement for plaintiffs who received noneconomic damages between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2025. In such cases, the plaintiff must submit to the Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the California courts, the amount and type of damages received. The Judicial Council will, in turn, create a report detailing the information for the state Legislature. On September 3, 2021, the Senate voted in concurrence with the Assembly’s amendments and ordered the bill to be proofread and prepared for Governor Gavin Newsom to either veto or approve.
Introduced by California State Senator John Laird (D), S.B. 447 has some compelling arguments in its favor and has received enough votes to advance. The bill, however, also has dozens of registered opponents with several arguments against it. Proponents of the bill note that most states allow a decedent’s personal representative or successor in interest to collect damages currently barred by Section 377.34, and claim that defendants take advantage of the present law, which contributes to the influx of cases awaiting trial in California. Opponents cite the longstanding rules in California and argue that such changes in legislation are unnecessary, as there are alternative means to recoup noneconomic damages.
While proponents attempt to refute economic concerns that may materialize if the bill is enacted by arguing that similar legislation exists in a majority of states, California, having the fifth largest economy globally, has a complex economic system that may not necessarily be comparable to most states. According to the fiscal impact report by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the bill could cost state agencies, including Cal Fire and CalTrans, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Additionally, concerns over the impact the bill may have in driving businesses out  of California, while not formally addressed by registered opponents, certainly are valid considerations.
Arguments in Support of S.B. 447
There are essentially three arguments made in support of S.B. 447: (1) that California is among the minority of states in the country that prohibit recovery for intangible damages or damages
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