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SACRAMENTO — As lawsuits mount against drug makers, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is planning a ballot initiative aimed at capping contingency fees in California at 20 percent. The proposed measure was filed Friday with the state attorney general’s office to be officially titled and summarized — a necessary step before proponents can circulate petitions to qualify it for the ballot. Merrill Jacobs, PhRMA’s deputy vice president, confirmed Tuesday that his organization hopes to put the initiative before voters in November, should Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger call a special election for his plans to reform California government. In order to make the fall ballot, PhRMA and its allies must obtain more than 330,000 valid signatures of registered state voters in about a month. “There’s enough money. If they get those people out on the streets with petitions, they could do it,” said Sharon Arkin, president of Consumer Attorneys of California. “The Vioxx cases heated up, the evidence shows that they were deliberately marketing a drug that they knew was going to hurt people, and now they want a fee cap.” Arkin said restricting contingency fees would harm consumers by making lawsuits against manufacturers less attractive to attorneys, who often spend large sums to bring such cases to trial with the prospect of winning fees of up to 40 percent. “People aren’t going to be protected anymore,” she said. Jacobs declined to comment on PhRMA’s motives for sponsoring the measure. But a press release issued Tuesday by his group said, “PhRMA and its members are considering initiative proposals that would help Californians obtain the highest-quality medicines and prescription drugs and to restore order to the legal and political systems that unnecessarily drive up the cost of health care for all Californians.” Representatives of tort reform groups said a fee cap makes sense. “It sounds good to me,” said Diann Rogers, executive director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, which last year failed to garner legislative support for a measure requiring stricter disclosure requirements for contingency fee agreements. “It’s an idea that’s bound to appeal to the voters,” said John Sullivan, president of the Civil Justice Association of California. Sullivan, who worked with Rogers’ group to secure passage of Prop 64 in November, said the successful reform of the state’s Business & Professions Code galvanized tort reformers and “revealed what too many lawyers are doing to too many innocent victims.” Bruce Brusavich of Torrance-based Agnew & Brusavich, a former CAOC president, acknowledged that Prop 64 has emboldened California tort reformers. “That was our concern — that if they got something, they would never stop,” he said. Brusavich pointed out that Florida voters in November passed a contingency fee cap of 30 percent of the first $250,000 in malpractice awards, and 10 percent of any amount over that. Voters in Nevada also approved a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages and a limit on contingency fees. California voters in 1996 rejected two ballot measures seeking limits on attorneys fees. But that doesn’t mean the state’s consumer attorneys aren’t taking PhRMA’s proposal seriously — particularly if the governor and his supporters embrace the idea. “I can certainly see him supporting [the initiative] if they get it qualified,” said Arkin. “I can see him doing ads for it.”

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