As part of Wisconsin’s medical malpractice reforms that include a limit on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases that was set at $750,000 in 2006 (after the prior $350,000 cap was declared unconstitutional by the Wisconsin Supreme Court), Wisconsin legislators created the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund (“Fund”) in 1975 that pays medical malpractice judgments that exceed $1 million.
Since its inception, the Fund’s balance has steadily increased to its present $1.15 billion value, which is more than the Fund has paid out over its lifetime. While the number of medical malpractice cases filed in Wisconsin since 1999 have fallen by more than 50%, the Fund has more than doubled during the same period of time.
In two recent Wisconsin medical malpractice cases, the trial judges raised questions regarding the Fund and the $750,000 cap on noneconomic damages:
A 53-year-old mother of four suffered the amputation of all of her limbs in 2011, allegedly due to medical malpractice. A Wisconsin medical malpractice jury awarded $16.5 million to the woman for her pain and suffering (noneconomic damages), for which the defendants ought a reduction to the $750,000 cap. While the judge had ruled before trial that the Fund was constitutional, the same judge heard arguments on September 5, 2014 that the cap was unconstitutional as it applied to this woman’s case. While the judge’s decision is expected in October 2014, the judge referred to the enormous balance of the Fund, and this year’s 10% reduction in the amount of the premiums charged to doctors who participate in the Fund, by stating, “Big deal. The state is sitting on $1 billion that the doctors are paying in. What are the chances of the billion dollars being exhausted in … ever?”
A 23-year-old man suffered compartment syndrome in his leg that nurses negligently failed to recognize, resulting in the man having to have repeated surgeries and the loss of sensation in his affected leg. The Wisconsin medical malpractice jury’s June 2014 award in the amount of $1.5 million for his pain and suffering was reduced by the trial judge on September 5, 2014 to the $750,000 cap, which the judge stated he was doing reluctantly. The trial judge addressed the present balance in the Fund by stating, “The amount of money that is presently in the Fund is an obscene amount. Are not the doctors … being ripped off? Why hasn’t the medical society spoken up and said enough is enough?”
Would any reasonable person believe that $750,000 is fair, just, and adequate to compensate the woman who suffered the loss of her limbs due to medical negligence?
Is $1.5 million excessive or unconscionable as compensation for a 23-year-old man who has lost the feeling in one of his legs due to medical malpractice?
If you or a family member suffered serious injuries as a result of medical malpractice in Wisconsin or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with a Wisconsin medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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