State Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages Unconstitutional, Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules
MADISON, WI -- October 21, 2005 -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently struck down the state's cap on compensation for injured patients. Thirteen states with similar laws have also ruled that such restrictions on medical malpractice damages are unconstitutional, according to the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA).
The Wisconsin case involved a birth injury that was due to a doctor's negligence (Matthew Ferdon v. Wisconsin Patients Compensation Fund). A jury awarded $700,000 in non-economic damages to Matthew Ferdon, who was born with a paralyzed, deformed arm. However, the state restricts such compensation to $350,000, and the child's compensation would have been reduced from $10,000 a year to $5,900 a year under the Wisconsin law.
Medical Malpractice Caps Discriminate Against the Severely Injured
The Court determined that the state's damage cap violates the equal protection guarantees of the Wisconsin constitution. The law fully compensates patients with minor injuries, but only partially compensates those who were severely injured, according to the Court. The cap is especially harmful to young people, not only because they suffer a disproportionate share of injuries, but because they can expect to be affected by these injuries for 60 or 70 years.
"When the legislature shifts the economic burden of medical malpractice from insurance companies and negligent health care providers to a small group of vulnerable, injured patients, the legislative action does not appear rational," the Court declared. "... [N]o rational basis exists for forcing the most severely injured patients to provide monetary relief to health care providers and their insurers."
Caps Do Not Help Lower Medical Malpractice Insurance Premiums
The Court also noted that the Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner could find no direct relationship between insurance premiums and medical malpractice caps. Instead, other factors may affect medical malpractice insurance premium rates, including state premium rate regulations, the level of competition among insurers, increasing interest rates, and the amount of income returns.
"The $350,000 ceiling adopted by the legislature is unreasonable and arbitrary because it is not rationally related to the legislative objective of lowering medical malpractice premiums," the Court concluded. "... [V]ictims of medical malpractice with valid and substantial claims do not seem to be the source of increased premiums for medical insurance, yet the $350,000 cap on non-economic damages requires that they bear the burden by being deprived of full tort compensation."
The Court also dismissed the argument that medical professionals are more likely to practice in Wisconsin if there are damage caps on patient lawsuits. "The available evidence indicates that health care providers do not decide to practice in a particular state based on the state's cap on non-economic damages," the Court declared.
Medical Malpractice Information
For more information about caps on medical malpractice damages, see Damage Caps on Medical Malpractice Awards Hurt the Seriously Injured and Medical Malpractice Payouts Are Not the Cause of Rising Insurance Premiums. To learn about medical malpractice lawsuits, see Medical Malpractice Claims. If you have been injured because of a physician's negligence, please feel free to contact us. We have been handling medical/legal cases for over 20 years and work tirelessly to protect the rights of our clients.