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How Wisconsin Legislators Have Injured Injury Victims

Posted on Jul 09, 2014

If you’re a doctor, the worst thing that can happen is for one of your patients to die. Yet, from a liability standpoint, Wisconsin malpractice law dictates that doctors are better off having patients die from their negligence as opposed to keeping them alive.

That’s because Wisconsin malpractice law has a $750,000 cap for “noneconomic damages” (i.e., pain and suffering) when the patient lives and a $500,000 cap for a wrongful death. Worse yet, it goes down to $250,000 if the doctor is a state employee and these caps apply even if the patient needs millions in future treatment.

To compound the problem, doctors and insurance companies are protected by a state-run $1.15 billion Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund that covers verdicts exceeding $1 million in malpractice suits. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out, this gives the insurance companies leverage to fight tooth and nail, even in cases of obvious malpractice.

To put the size of the fund into perspective, even if every single pending claim was paid out, there would still be $523.3 million left over.

As a result, the fund and the “noneconomic damages” caps are putting medical malpractice victims at a double disadvantage. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, these factors are discouraging most lawyers from accepting such cases in the first place.

In general, malpractice cases are expensive; most cost at least $60,000, but some cost much more. Not only are attorneys restricted by the caps, malpractice laws only permit attorneys to collect their standard one-third legal fee on the first $1 million. On larger settlements, the attorney can only have 20 percent of the remaining balance.

If the attorney settles the case within 180 days, the top fee drops from one-third to 25 percent. So the attorney essentially gets punished for resolving the case in a timely manner.

With all this in mind, Wisconsin attorneys aren’t as inclined to accept malpractice cases unless there are significant “economic damages” (i.e., medical bills). This essentially leaves some medical malpractice victims at the mercy of the insurance companies, assuming “mercy” is even in their vocabulary.

Supposedly, the purpose of the justice system is to protect the public. But when it comes to medical malpractice laws in Wisconsin, it appears that the public is being sold out in favor of doctors and insurance companies.