Wisconsin Court of Appeals Finds Medical Malpractice Caps Unconstitutional

by | Aug 1, 2017

In a previous blog post, we discussed a Florida Supreme Court ruling that struck down damages caps in medical malpractice cases. Those caps, which limited the amount of non-economic damages victims and families are able to recover following injuries caused by negligent medical professionals, were ruled unconstitutional because they unfairly infringed upon the rights of victims. Earlier this July, the First District Court of Appeals of Wisconsin issued a similar ruling against state laws capping non-economic damages for victims of medical malpractice.

The Wisconsin ruling was issued by a state appellate court over a case involving a Milwaukee woman who lost all four limbs due to substandard care provided by emergency room medical staff. Although diagnosed with an infection by a physician, the woman was not informed of the infection or provided with antibiotics when she presented to the emergency room, and was instead told to follow up with a specialist. The following day, her untreated infection progressed into a serious septic infection that caused organ failure and gangrene, necessitating an amputation of her arms and legs. She later sued the doctor, the hospital, and other defendants over claims that their negligence resulted in preventable permanent injuries.

After finding the doctor and his physician’s assistant negligent in treating the woman, a jury awarded $15 million in non-economic damages, as well as $1.5 million to her husband. These non-economic damages comprised her emotional pain and suffering and other intangible losses, including her loss of quality and enjoyment of life and her husband’s loss of companionship. Due to a Wisconsin state law that placed caps on non-economic damages, however, the jury award was reduced to $750,000.

In ruling against the damages cap, the three-judge panel’s unanimous opinion made two important points:

  • Presiding judges ruled that the statutory non-economic damages cap is unconstitutional on its face.
  • The cap always reduces non-economic damages only for victims who suffer the most severe injuries, yet allows the full amount of damages for less severely injured victims.

The ruling, which mirrors the decision handed down by the Florida Supreme Court, calls attention to the fact that it is often the most devastatingly injured victims and families who suffer as a result of damages caps. In this particular case, a woman and mother of four will now be confined to a wheelchair and forced to face severe limitations for the rest of her life as a result of medical negligence. The jury, as would many Americans, agreed her non-economic losses were profound and that they warranted commensurate compensation. The law, as it stood in the state of Wisconsin, would say her emotional suffering could be worth no more than $750,000. The appellate court’s decision against damages caps is expected to be appealed.

Medical Malpractice Damages Caps

Medical malpractice damages caps impose illogical burdens on catastrophically injured patients. These caps, which are often lobbied for and passed as a result of profit-driven special interest groups, force victims and families to bear the burden of tort reform. Fortunately, efforts to raise awareness about these laws are beginning to prompt landmark rulings and significant victories for victims’ rights. They are also fueling efforts to combat the latest tort reform efforts and proposed legislative bills making their way through Congress, including HR 1215 (deceptively named the Protecting Access to Care Act), which would place a $250,000 non-economic damages cap on medical malpractice and nursing home cases if passed by the Senate and signed by the President.

As a law firm that has advocated on behalf of injured victims throughout the DC Metro for over 45 years, we at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. know the importance of fighting back against legislation that favors corporations and prioritizes profits over people. It is why we regularly post about significant rulings and routinely share important legal news and updates regarding efforts that have the potential to harm our justice system. Tort reform and damages caps ultimately strip juries of their power to make decisions as American citizens, and allow lobbyists that flood our politics with money to obtain that power instead. It is in no victim’s best interests to have a legal system which permits that.

Our commitment to the injured and the wronged runs deeper than fighting on behalf of injured victims and families who come to use during their times of need. It extends to efforts we feel are important to our civil justice system and to all Americans who may suffer harm due to the negligence or wrongful acts of others. If you would like to learn more, we encourage you to visit www.takejusticeback.com. Our award-winning attorneys are also available to help should you have questions about your own rights and any potential injury case.

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