Medical malpractice lawsuits are the one tool injured patients have to fight back after they are harmed by healthcare provider error. They are also one of the only effective ways of holding the medical industry responsible when it prioritizes cost savings over patient safety. Despite the vital consumer protection role these lawsuits play, state after state continues to slash patients’ rights to prosecute medical malpractice cases. Statistics from Wisconsin show that tort reform measures reduce the number of injured patients who are able to seek justice when they have been wronged. This hurts every person who will ever seek out healthcare.
Wisconsin’s Tort Reform Prevents a Record-Breaking Number of Patients from Seeking Justice
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the number of patients filing medical malpractice claims fell to a record low last year. Note that it does not report any decrease in the number of actual cases of medical malpractice. It only reports a decrease in the number of legal complaints filed about the malpractice. While the state saw 294 medical malpractice claims filed in 1999, only 84 suits were filed statewide last year. The thing is, there is no evidence that doctors suddenly became that much less negligent.
Instead the facts show that draconian laws are just making medical malpractice cases almost impossible to prosecute in the state. For example, an earlier report explained that Wisconsin’s “tort reform” laws set strict damage caps and severely limit which family members are allowed to sue for wrongful death caused by medical malpractice. For example, Wisconsin will not allow adult children (including 18 year old high school seniors) to recover for the wrongful deaths of their parents. This does not mean that fewer family members are being hurt by malpractice, it just means that fewer are allowed to sue.
The damage caps also severely limit the number of plaintiffs who are practically able to sue. Medical malpractice litigation is extremely expensive because it requires a lot of expert testimony and a lot of document review by experts. When the potential payoff of such litigation is severely limited, it makes it wildly financially irresponsible for attorneys to take on even some dead-bang winner cases because of the risk of not recouping their costs at the end of the day. When attorneys cannot afford to take medical malpractice cases injured patients and families have no realistic opportunity to file suit. Attempting to proceed pro se against the powerful insurance companies and their attorneys would be nearly impossible, and injured plaintiffs typically do not have the financial resources available to front the costs of the litigation themselves even if they did have the knowledge and ability to file suit without a lawyer.
Insurance Companies Profit Off of Patients Lost Chances at Justice
While injured patients and their families are being denied access to justice in Wisconsin, the state’s insurance companies are rolling in profits. Michael Matray, the editor of a Chicago-based trade journal that follows the malpractice insurance industry told the Journal-Sentinel that this is the longest “soft-market” the industry has ever had. In soft markets insurance profits are up.
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