Wisconsin appears to be the latest state experiencing pushback against medical malpractice damage caps. Damage caps are laws that protect insurance companies by ensuring that victims do not receive more than a certain amount of money for their pain and suffering, even if a jury awards them a larger sum.
Damage caps called “an insult to citizens”
At least three cases appear to be headed to Wisconsin’s highest court. In one case, a woman had to have all of her limbs amputated after a hospital failed to diagnose a serious infection. In another, a man developed compartment syndrome and had to undergo numerous surgeries (including a gruesome fasciotomy [warning: graphic pictures behind the link]) after hospital staff was slow to recognize his symptoms. In both cases, juries awarded damages well in excess of the state’s medical malpractice damage caps.
In a third case involving state employees, a damage cap was applied to reduce a $1.8 million award to only $250,000. A Wisconsin trial attorney referred to that cap as “an insult to the citizens of Wisconsin.”
In Wisconsin, malpractice awards exceeding $1 million are paid out of a compensation fund. The Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund currently sits at $1.15 BILLION, leading some to question whether the caps are necessary.
Michigan malpractice caps not saving consumers any money
The chief argument in favor of malpractice caps is that they limit the costs of litigation, in turn saving consumers money. The facts suggest otherwise, however. Health insurance premiums continue to increase, even as malpractice awards decline steadily year after year. Medical malpractice litigation expenses make up a remarkably small portion of total healthcare spending in the United States.
In Michigan, we have a two-tiered malpractice cap. For most injuries, the noneconomic damages are capped at $280,000. If the malpractice resulted in brain injury, spinal injury, permanently impaired cognitive functioning, or loss or damage to a reproductive organ, the award is limited to $500,000. Both amounts are adjusted for inflation.
Simply put, medical malpractice damage awards caps have not resulted in massive savings to consumers. Doctors and insurance companies have reaped the benefits of their decreased accountability, while injured patients and their families struggle to receive a fair amount for their loss.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.