Supreme Court Strikes Down Malpractice Caps

By: Zac Schultz
By: Zac Schultz

Madison: In 1995, Wisconsin put a cap on pain and suffering awards of $350,000.

Hospitals and doctors say, not coincidently, Wisconsin has some of the lowest malpractice insurance premiums in the nation, attracting some of the best doctors in the nation to the Badger state.

Dr. Meetul Shah and his wife are still moving in to their new home in Madison. They came from Washington State, where Meetul says the cost of malpractice insurance had skyrocketed in just a few years.

"From $1,300 to $8,500 and the expectation was next year it would go to $12,000."

Meetul wanted to get closer to family in Chicago, but Illinois malpractice insurance could cost more than $50,000. So he came to Wisconsin, where his premium is only $6,500.

"We left for many reasons, but one of the huge reasons for leaving was this malpractice problem that wasn't going away. And now I've moved to a place that has a new malpractice problem," says Dr. Shah.

"It's really a sad day for Wisconsin's health care system," says Dr. Susan Turney, Wisconsin Medical Society-CEO.

Hospital officials and physicians gathered at the Capitol to predict spiraling health care costs and a loss of rural physicians.

"We will no longer be the state that attracts physicians from other problem states because we may indeed become one of those problem states," says Dr. Turney.

"There is no correlation between caps and health insurance premiums, at least in the Wisconsin experience," retorts malpractice attorney Dan Rottier.

Rottier says removing the cap won't raise malpractice premiums. It will, he says, provide some justice for some of the victims of negligent doctors. "Talk to a woman who has lost all four limbs and tell her she's limited to $350,000."

Rottier says one of the main reasons the court ruled the caps unconstitutional is that the $350,000 limit was a randomly selected number. It wasn't based on its impact on insurance premiums.

Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) says they will start work on creating a new cap with a number that is fair and constitutional.

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