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“Tort Reform” May Rob Quadruple Amputee of the Damage Award the Jury Determined to be Fair

Doctors are trained to provide us with necessary, sometimes life saving, health care. But even though most of the time doctors help their patients, sometimes they hurt their patients. When such medical malpractice occurs, the effects can be life altering for both the patient and his or her family. Recently a Milwaukee jury realized this, and awarded a woman and her husband $25.3 million. But misguided tort reform laws may deny the couple the money a jury said they deserve.

The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports that Ascaris Mayo, a mother of four, lost both of her arms and both of her legs in 2011 after doctors failed to detect a Strep A infection she suffered from. Mayo went to the hospital in 2011 for severe abdominal pain, a rapid heartbeat, and fever. She spent about nine hours in the hospital, and then was sent home with directions to see her gynecologist for “fibroid issues.” Only hours later, she collapsed at home due to the strep infection and subsequent septic shock. The septic shock ultimately led to the loss of all of her limbs because of damage to her vascular system. After a trial, where the jury heard the detailed evidence in the case, the jurors determined that a doctor and a physician’s assistant were responsible for the injuries because they failed to provide Ms. Mayo with alternative medical diagnoses that would have led her to pursue treatment. She was never told that a life-threatening bacterial infection was a possible diagnosis based on her symptoms-if she had been told, she would have sought further treatment.

The jury trial in the case lasted three weeks. At the end of all of the evidence, the jury determined that the proper damage award in the case is $25.3 million. More than $8.2 million of that amount is just to go toward past and anticipated health care costs. The jury also decided Ms. Mayo’s husband should receive $1.5 million for the loss of companionship he is now suffering and will always suffer due to his wife’s extensive injuries. Finally, the jury determined that Ms. Mayo should receive $15 million for the pain and suffering the loss of both arms and both legs has caused her.

Unfortunately, as the Star Tribune reports, Wisconsin caps both the amount Ms. Mayo’s husband could recover, and Ms. Mayo’s pain and suffering damages at a mere $750,000. So, the medical professionals will be appealing. This outrageously low damage cap underscores the horrors of so-called tort reform. In the past two decades, powerful insurance lobbies have convinced the public to support tort reform, claiming that all it would do is weed out frivolous lawsuits. But this case shows that it does the exact opposite. Here we have a woman who suffered unimaginable loss-she is a quadruple amputee due to a doctor’s malpractice. Her case is anything but frivolous. Yet, if the Wisconsin Supreme Court does not strike down the cap as many other state supreme courts have, Ms. Mayo will be a victim of tort reform.

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