Medical malpractice claim limit ruled unconstitutional

Wisconsin’s limit on the amount of money patients can receive under medical malpractice claims is unconstitutional, a state appeals court recently ruled.

The case in the state’s 1st District Court of Appeals centers around Ascaris Mayo, who the court says didn’t get fully informed of her diagnosis and adequate treatment after a visit to a Milwaukee emergency room.

The next day, she went to another emergency room, where she was told she had a septic infection that ultimately led to doctors amputating her arms and legs.

A jury, which found two employees at the first ER weren’t negligent, awarded Mayo $15 million in non-economic damages and also found her husband should get $1.5 million.

But that’s above the state’s $750,000 cap on non-economic damages — a category that covers pain and suffering, for example — so the Wisconsin Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund sought to reduce the damages to that level. The state does not have a similar cap for economic damages such as medical bills or lost wages.

The court ruled the state’s cap imposes an “unfair and illogical burden only on catastrophically injured patients.” The court ruled those patients don’t get the full amount of damages they’re entitled to, while those whose awards come under the cap do.

The Wisconsin Medical Society criticized the ruling, saying the state’s structure has helped patients recover damages “while helping control health care costs and protecting access to care for all Wisconsin citizens.”

“This decision endangers the long-term solvency of the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund and its ability to adequately compensate patients, and incentivizes attorneys to file questionable cases in hopes of astronomical jury awards seen in other states without caps,” Society President Noel Deep said.

Wisconsin Hospital Association President and CEO Eric Borgerding, meanwhile, said the state’s medical liability system “has helped Wisconsin retain and attract high-quality physicians to Wisconsin communities” and that the decision would hurt those efforts.

Judge Joan Kessler wrote the opinion for the three-judge panel. Judge William Brash wrote a concurring opinion disagreeing that the cap was unconstitutional, though he agreed the jury’s $16.5 million award should stay in place.

The state’s Office of Commissioner of Insurance, which operates the fund, did not respond to a request for comment on whether it’ll appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

See the ruling:

–By Polo Rocha