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Wisconsin Lawmaker Trying to Undo the Damage of Tort Reform

The people of Wisconsin have been some of the nation’s most serious victims of tort reform. They have had their rights to recover in medical malpractice cases severely curtailed, particularly in wrongful death cases. Fortunately it appears that at least one Wisconsin lawmaker is finally willing to stand up to the powerful insurance lobby and do something about this travesty of justice.

Wisconsin Lawmaker Takes Steps to Change Medical Malpractice Laws

Radio station WSAU reports that Milwaukee’s Senator Nikija Harris Dodd is fighting to let more family members sue for wrongful death in medical malpractice cases. She started the fight last year, but this year she is taking a more measured approach. Wisconsin has a particularly draconian wrongful death statute in place that makes it so only spouses, minor children, and parents of minor children can sue for wrongful death. These leaves some of the most deserving survivors of wrongful deaths out in the cold. It creates a situation where the parent of a college freshman killed by medical malpractice has no recourse whatsoever. The Senator’s proposal would fix this problem, allowing parents to sue over the deaths of their children killed by malpractice before the age of 27. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes the Senator as saying, “A parent should not have to suffer having lost a child without having their day in court.”

This Proposal Still Leaves Deserving Victims With No Recourse

Imagine for a moment the scenario where a single mother of an 18-year-old high school senior is killed by a doctor’s negligence. Under Wisconsin’s ill-conceived law that high school student would have no recourse whatsoever. A minor child would be placed with a family member or foster family who would be responsible for providing for them. This eighteen year old will not be. Yet the eighteen year old has a limited capacity to care for him or herself since he or she hopefully would remain in high school. There are also very real limitations on what sort of housing an 18 year old can access without a parent to co-sign and what kind of credit they can receive. So arguably this class of victims of malpractice is most in need of a financial settlement but they are barred from receiving one.

Who Could Oppose Helping this Victims?

So who is opposing helping these victims of malpractice? The answer is that the powerful medical, insurance, and business lobbies oppose making good changes in the law to provide recourse to these victims. Mike Grapentine, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Medical Society, told the Journal Sentinel that if a scaled-down bill to fix the problem is introduced the medical lobby would determine its position after its prices out the potential cost of the bill. That’s right, the lobbyists for an industry that is supposed to care about its patients over profit is basing its decision on the financials. He also said that the organization would oppose a broader bill. His organization led the opposition in last year’s fight over giving more victims rights.

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