Category Archives: Wisconsin

July 2018 Newsletter

Wisconsin court preserves reforms – and access to care A decision this month by Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court kept intact liability reforms that have placed reasonable limits on noneconomic damages and resulted in lower health care costs for patients and physicians. The court upheld the state’s $750,000 limit on non-economic damages while continuing to guarantee that deserving patients would receive full and unlimited compensation for past and future medical care as well as lost wages. “Today’s Court decision preserves Wisconsin’s balanced medical liability system that has been instrumental in attracting physicians to communities across Wisconsin, while providing assurance to injured patients that they will receive payment for the full amount of a jury’s award of medical expenses, lost wages, and other economic losses,” Wisconsin Hospital Association President Eric Borgerding stated. The state maintains an Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund using assessments charged to physicians, clinics, hospitals and other participants and covers all damages above their primary insurance limits. Premiums paid by physicians to the fund have been dropping since 2014, with rates falling by 34 percent in 2016, 30 percent last year and an anticipated drop of another 30 percent this year. This month’s decision comes as a reversal…

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AMA’s legal team helps protect medical liability reforms

Medical liability reform is a high state legislative priority for the AMA. Not surprisingly, then, it is also a high priority for the Litigation Center for the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies. Evidence of this is the Litigation Center’s involvement in five active tort reform-related cases before the state Supreme Courts of Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and Texas. And evidence of the Litigation Center’s success is the recent Wisconsin state Supreme Court 5–2 ruling that the state’s $750,000 cap on awards for noneconomic damages did not violate the state constitution. The Wisconsin cap on noneconomic damages is one component of a three-part strategy that has stabilized the state’s medical liability environment. The three elements are: A requirement for most physicians to carry $1 million in liability coverage per occurrence and $3 million in aggregate. The Wisconsin Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, which is financed via assessments (based on actuarial risk) charged to physicians, clinics, hospitals and other participants and covers all damages above the primary insurance limits. The $750,000 cap on noneconomic damages. Many caps, few guarantees Wisconsin and 30 other states have a cap on noneconomic damages. But the Dairy State is one of just a…

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Legal reform advocates point to medical malpractice figures in New York, Pennsylvania

ALBANY, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) – Experts who have watched medical malpractice lawsuits skyrocket in states like New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey say lawmakers have made it too easy and attractive to sue and reform must happen. “New Yorkers once again pay more for medical liability than anywhere in America,” Tom Stebbins, executive director of Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York told Legal Newsline. “Sadly, Albany recently made matters worse by approving legislation that expands liability and makes it easier to file lawsuits.” The “2018 Medical Malpractice Payout Analysis” released March 1 by Diederich Health Care, a medical liability insurance and consulting company based in Carbondale, Illinois, includes figures comparing medical malpractice rates among states. Among Northeast states, New York topped the list for the most malpractice cases with a total approximate $617,973,000 in payouts with Pennsylvania second at $342,093,300, and New Jersey third with $267,913,250. The lowest in the Northeast were the District of Columbia with $11,498,500, Delaware with $8,253,250 and Vermont at the bottom with $1,536,500. Among Midwestern states, Illinois was far in the lead with $300,790,050 in payouts with Michigan second at $77,072,200. The lowest Midwestern states were Wisconsin at $13,527,100, North Dakota with $3,505,000 and…

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December 2017 Newsletter

Year-end report sheds light on “Judicial Hellholes” The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) end-of-year “Judicial Hellholes” report offers a public glimpse at the most unfriendly jurisdictions for those defending themselves against civil litigation, including medical liability lawsuits. At the top of the list this year was Florida, where once-strong medical liability reforms have been continuously rolled back at the expense of patients seeking affordable and accessible care. “This year, thanks to a state high court majority’s barely contained contempt for the policy-making authority of the legislative and executive branches of government, and a notoriously aggressive and sometimes lawless plaintiffs’ bar, Florida earns the ignominious #1 ranking among eight Judicial Hellholes…” said American Tort Reform Association president Tiger Joyce. Also high on the list was St. Louis, where “antiquated rules have made it a favorite of personal-injury lawyers shopping for big-money verdicts” resulting in $300 million in awards since 2015. However, recent changes in state government, including a governor in support of changes to the liability system, do hold promise for much-needed reform in the coming year. To read more about ATRA’s “Judicial Hellholes” executive summary and report on the where physicians and defendants fare the worst when it comes to…

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High Court’s Contempt for Lawmakers’ Authority, Lawsuit Rackets Place Florida atop Latest ‘Judicial Hellholes’ List

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 5, 2017 – The American Tort Reform Foundation issued its 2017-2018 Judicial Hellholes® report today, naming courts in Florida, California, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana among the nation’s “most unfair” in their handling of civil litigation. “With both this annual report and a year-round website, our Judicial Hellholes program since 2002 has been documenting troubling developments in jurisdictions where civil court judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally to the disadvantage of defendants,” began American Tort Reform Association president Tiger Joyce. “This year, thanks to a state high court majority’s barely contained contempt for the policy-making authority of the legislative and executive branches of government, and a notoriously aggressive and sometimes lawless plaintiffs’ bar, Florida earns the ignominious #1 ranking among eight Judicial Hellholes, even as authorities have begun to crack down on some of the lawsuit industry’s most obviously fraudulent rackets. “Ranked #2 is perennial hellhole California, where lawmakers, prosecutors and plaintiff-friendly judges inexorably expand civil liability at the expense of businesses, jobseekers and those desperately in need of affordable housing,” Joyce explained. “The good news is the U.S. Supreme Court in June reversed a…

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July 2017 Newsletter

  Ailing liability system not fair to deserving patients Even as the prospects for larger efforts to reform our nation’s health care system remain uncertain, there’s hope that medical liability reform could make incremental progress on reducing costs and restoring fairness to deserving patients. An editorial this month highlights the progress made by the House of Representatives in passing the Protecting Access to Care Act in order to align a patchwork of state liability laws and ensure full compensation of medical bills and lost wages to patients who are the victims of medical negligence. Unfortunately, personal injury attorneys continue to stand in the way of full passage of medical liability reform by the Senate. According to the editorial, “fairness is elusive,” particularly to patients, who are subject to a system that adds billions of dollars in health care spending each year, lost to defensive medicine and sky-high premiums that reduce access to care. With the ball now in the court of the Senate, “lawmakers who say they’re committed to addressing ‘affordable’ health care need to stop dancing around malpractice tort reform and address what’s grown into a significant, if not inordinate, cost driver,” the editorial concludes. To read more about…

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Wisconsin’s cap on medical malpractice awards unconstitutional, courts rules

Ruling that Wisconsin’s $750,000 cap on medical malpractice claims is unconstitutional, an appellate court said Wednesday that a Milwaukee woman who lost all four limbs should collect the $16.5 million for pain and suffering awarded to her and her husband. “We conclude that the statutory cap on non-economic damages is unconstitutional on its face,” Judge Joan Kessler wrote in the 19-page unanimous opinion by the three-judge First District Court of Appeals panel. Kessler added that “Wisconsin’s cap on non-economic medical malpractice damagesalways reduces non-economic damages only for the class of the most severely injured victims who have been awarded damages exceeding the cap, yet always allows full damages to the less severely injured malpractice victims.” The appeal involves the $25.3 million award given in 2014 to Ascaris Mayo, a 57-year-old mother of four who had her limbs amputated in 2011 after a Strep A infection — the kind that causes strep throat — went undetected, leading to septic shock. The damage caused by the infection led to the amputations.  Wisconsin law caps non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases at $750,000 but does not put a ceiling on the amount that could be awarded for economic damages, such as medical costs, which in Mayo’s case was awarded at $8.8…

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Malpractice premiums flat in 2015, but changes could be ahead

Physicians paid about the same in liability insurance premiums in 2015 as in 2014, and analysts don’t see costs changing anytime soon. A nationwide survey of insurers by the Medical Liability Monitor shows that 71% of insurance premiums did not change this year, while 17% of rates rose and 12% fell. Internists experienced an average premium increase of 0.6% in 2015, while general surgeons saw a 0.2% average rate decrease, and ob.gyns experienced an average 0.5% rate increase. The static premium market is being largely driven by the low number of lawsuits filed by patients and family members in recent years, said survey coauthor Paul Greve Jr., executive vice president/senior consultant for the Willis Health Care Practice, a global risk management consultant firm. “It’s amazing to see the continuing stability in claim frequency,” Mr. Greve said in an interview. “The claims counts are just not rising. Its great for the industry, and it’s great for physicians, but it is puzzling because you wonder what has caused what amounts to a sea change in the attitudes of the general public toward malpractice litigation such that the claim counts were drop off.” Premiums continue to vary geographically. Southern Florida internists for example,…

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Wisconsin last among states for malpractice claim payments, analysis shows

Wisconsin doctors paid fewer medical malpractice claims per capita last year than their peers in any other state — and physicians here are consistently at the bottom nationwide when it comes to paying such claims, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis of federal data. Only six of every 1 million Wisconsin residents collected a medical malpractice claim last year, compared with a national rate of 27 per 1 million of population, according to the analysis of records filed with the National Practitioner Data Bank. That amounted to 37 total payouts in Wisconsin last year. The Wisconsin payment rate was last among the states in three of the past five years, and it has ranked 47th or lower 20 times since 1992, according to the analysis. Meanwhile, the analysis shows, the number of claims paid to victims of doctor error has been dropping in Wisconsin and nationally. “People ought to be worried about a system that doesn’t police bad actors,” said Ann Jacobs, a Milwaukee attorney and president of the state trade group for plaintiff’s lawyers. “Does anybody really believe that only 37 doctors (in Wisconsin) made mistakes?’ she added. James Gutglass, a veteran Milwaukee defense lawyer who specializes in…

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Facing legal roadblocks, medical malpractice claims dwindle

The number of medical malpractice claims fell to a record low in Wisconsin last year as the state-managed insurance fund for the doctors grew to more than $1.2 billion, newly released records show. Only 84 medical malpractice suits were filed in Wisconsin last year — down from 140 the previous year — according to new statistics compiled by the Director of State Courts. For comparison, there were 294 actions filed in 1999. “Ninety-nine percent of lawyers … just don’t want to take medical malpractice cases,” said Michael End, a veteran Milwaukee medical malpractice attorney. “The cases are very expensive, very time consuming and so many are lost that ought to be won.” The state Medical Mediation Panels received 118 complaints last year — the lowest number in the agency’s history — down from 161 the previous year, agency administrator Randy Sproule said Friday. By comparison, there were 410 requests for mediation filed in 1987, the first full year of the agency’s operation. State law requires that plaintiffs file with the mediation panel before they can bring a suit in court. About one-third of the mediation complaints filed in 2013 and 2014 were done without lawyers, Sproule said. The Milwaukee Journal…

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