A Wisconsin medical malpractice case is challenging state damage caps and highlighting the restrictive nature of caps as the state Supreme Court battles over the amount a jury awarded the victim. The case has received nationwide attention as many states have wrestled with damage caps for economic and non-economic damages related to medical malpractice injuries. The decision made by the Supreme Court could impact victims in Wisconsin for years to come.
Wisconsin Medical Malpractice Case Information
In 2011, a Wisconsin woman presented to Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital with a rapid heartbeat, severe abdominal pain, and a fever. After nine hours, she was discharged from the hospital with orders to follow up with her gynecologist. The next day, she went to a different hospital with the same complaints, and was diagnosed with Strep A infection, which had led to sepsis and septic shock.
The doctors at Columbia St. Mary’s had missed the diagnosis and had not offered any antibiotics. By the time she received a diagnosis, her organs were failing and dry gangrene was already starting in her extremities. In a comatose state for around a month, the patient’s extremities turned hard, black, and brittle – essentially mummifying. The result was amputation of all four limbs.
The patient has four children, was active in church, and played several musical instruments prior to this harrowing ordeal. Now, she is limited in her ability to complete day-to-day tasks, and often relies on the assistance of a wheelchair and others. The patient and her husband filed a lawsuit.
In 2014, a Milwaukee County jury awarded the patient and her husband $24.3 million, with $16.5 million awarded for non-economic damages including loss of companionship and pain and suffering. The remaining portion of the award was allocated to economic damages including past and future medical costs and care.
Defendants Argue to Limit Non-Economic Damages
The defendants in the above case, who are led by the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, argued that the award for non-economic damages should be limited to the state cap of $750,000. Their argument is based on the idea that keeping the caps in place helps preserve the $1.4 billion fund.
The patient and her husband argued that the $750,000 cap is unconstitutional, and is punishing for severely injured patients. A Circuit Judge ruled that the cap was constitutional, but that it was unconstitutional in this case given the circumstances. An appellate court then also ruled the cap was unconstitutional. The Milwaukee County Circuit Judge stated that overriding the cap is not outrageous, and is in proportion to the victims injuries.
The Judge stated that “Although the cap may be constitutional as applied to medical malpractice victims as a whole, there is no rational justification for depriving Mrs. Mayo, who is in her mid-fifties, limbless and largely immobile, and Mr. Mayo, of the entire jury award”.
Determining the economic and non-economic damages related to medical malpractice is a complex process. If you have questions about damages or damage caps, contact Brown & Brothers to speak with one of our medical malpractice attorneys.
Wisconsin Medical Malpractice Case Challenges State Damage Caps
For several years, “tort reforms” have aimed at placing damage caps on medical malpractice lawsuits. The primary supporters for this reform are doctors and insurance companies. The number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in Wisconsin have declined, much like other states. In 2017, only 140 medical malpractice lawsuits were filed, a 50 percent decline over 1999.
The reason for the decline in cases is not, unfortunately, a decrease in instances of medical malpractice. Rather, the decrease is the fact that changing laws have made it more difficult for plaintiffs (victims) to successfully litigate and win. Many attorneys opt not to accept medical malpractice cases because the low damage caps mean little return on investment after fees are taken out and expenses paid.
To make matters worse, a staggering 90 percent of all medical malpractice cases that make it to trial are won by doctors and insurance companies. The law makes it incredibly difficult for plaintiffs to get compensation for actions that may clearly violate the standards of care and their legal rights.
Cases like that of the Wisconsin family may highlight the individualized nature of medical malpractice. Why should every case be quantified in the same terms, and on the same scale? Why should injuries and illnesses be defined as being equal when each has a very different impact on the patient and his or her family? Who should get to decide how mentally and emotionally damaging medical malpractice is from one person to the next?
Medical Malpractice and Damage Cap Laws
If you are considering filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is important that you understand your legal rights and how the law applies to your case. Texas, like most other states, has a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Every medical malpractice case is unique, and it is important to contact a skilled attorney to explore every option available to get the compensation and justice you deserve.
To learn more about medical malpractice laws in Texas, or to schedule a free consultation, fill out our online form and we will get back in touch with you as soon as possible.