Jury verdict shows the need for caps

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

In Dane County, a jury recently issued an $8.4 million award in a medical malpractice case. This is the first major award since Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the medical malpractice caps the legislature passed last year.

The legislation we passed would have capped the pain and suffering portion of awards to $450,000, or $550,000 for those under 18, and put no cap on the actual economic damages. In this case, the pain and suffering portion of the award was $4.25 million. These huge punitive awards will put a financial burden on all health care in Wisconsin.

In fact, the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund Actuarial Committee recently recommended a 25 percent increase in the annual fees that hospitals and physicians are required to pay.

But that does not seem to bother the trial lawyers. The Wisconsin Law Journal is promoting a seminar titled "Life After Caps – How to Get the Most Money for Your Client." During this seminar, you would be taught the "Tools for Trial to Get the Million Dollar Verdict." Not bad for a $50 fee.

The President of the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers, Dan Rottier, must already know how to use those tools. On Dec. 1, he replaced the attorney of record in the Dane County Case. On Dec. 2, Doyle vetoed the caps. With a typical lawyer percentage fee, the cap veto provided an additional $1.23 million in extra cash.

Interestingly, the caps that Doyle vetoed do not apply across the board. University of Wisconsin doctors, by means of being state employees, have a $250,000 cap on liability. After speaking with a number of people at UW, it was made clear to my office that those caps are crucial to their success. The caps provide stability which enables them to recruit and retain quality doctors to help achieve their teaching and service mission.

Private sector physicians have many of the same goals and would benefit greatly from the stability afforded the UW doctors. Unfortunately, without any caps, the Dane County award could become the norm, not the exception. If so, attracting and keeping good doctors could become more difficult than it already seems to be. For instance, the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health Physician Placement Program tells us there are currently 320 vacancies in Wisconsin.

Malpractice caps are not the single solution to our health care concerns. They are part of a package that we are working on to increase transparency and flexibility. But the predictability offered by the caps is a vital component. Unfortunately, the support from the trial lawyers is crucial to Doyle’s re-election campaign.

This essay was originally published at www.wisopinion.com, a media partner of Small Business Times.

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