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Wisconsin Medical Malpractice Laws Leaving Victims Helpless

Posted on Dec 02, 2014

When someone’s health is ruined by medical negligence, no amount of money can fully compensate them for what they endure. The problem becomes even worse when victims are denied the compensation they desperately need.

In Wisconsin, medical malpractice laws leave victims with no leverage to negotiate fair settlements. As a result, insurance companies are under no pressure to settle even in cases of obvious malpractice.

First off, Wisconsin legislatures have injured injury victims by imposing a $750,000 cap for non-economic damages (i.e., pain and suffering) in medical malpractice cases. The wrongful death cap for loss of society and companionship is $500,000 for a minor and $350,000 for an adult. If the defendant is a state employee, it plummets to $250,000.

That’s just the beginning of it.

The Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, which has $1.18 billion in assets, covers settlements that exceed $1 million. This means insurance companies can’t lose more than $1 million, giving them an incentive not to settle.

Normally, it’s best for both parties to settle a personal injury matter out of court. In most states, insurance companies are pressured to settle promptly to avoid large, multimillion-dollar verdicts.

Victims understandably want their money sooner than later so they can put the ordeal behind them. When the process drags out, the bills keep piling up, putting victims at an impasse.

In Wisconsin, insurance companies fight tooth-and-nail because they can’t lose more than $1 million. Even if there is obvious malpractice, a fair and timely settlement offer is unlikely.

Medical malpractice victims are already at a disadvantage because the standard of proof is incredibly high. It’s no wonder that defendants win more than 90 percent of cases that go trial, as noted by the Physician Insurers Association of America.

However, in Wisconsin, it’s even more difficult. A unique Wisconsin law bans virtually all incident reports from being used in court. Without those reports, it’s hard to prove anything.

Another unique Wisconsin law permits only spouses and minor children to sue for a wrongful death claim. If the victim has no spouse or minor children, the case goes away.

In some cases, these convenient loopholes allow doctors and insurance companies to pay nothing when victims deserve millions.

Katherine Daniels was 18 years old when her mother died in the emergency room. She was financially dependent on her mother, but not a minor, so she can’t sue. Even though one of the doctors admitted to “mess-ups,” he is virtually immune to a lawsuit thanks to Wisconsin medical malpractice laws.

88-year-old Levaine Schmitt’s husband and primary caretaker, Robert, died in a hospital after falling off an operating table. The details of the fall are murky, and since incident reports can’t be used as evidence, the family has no way of knowing what really happened.

Obviously, Robert’s widow isn’t in very good health, thus she needed a caretaker. So the insurance company is unlikely to settle because they have time on their side. After all, if Levaine dies before a settlement is reached, they get off scot-free. In the meantime, Levaine is left without a husband, caretaker or any money to live off of.

Those two scenarios illustrate how Wisconsin medical malpractice laws enable hospitals to pay nothing when people die due to their negligence. Had either victim survived, they’d still be liable. Since both died, they’re off the hook.

The purpose of the law is to protect the public. But when it comes to Wisconsin medical malpractice laws, it serves to protect doctors and insurance companies from the consequences of their mistakes.