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GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin are trying once again to circumvent the jury system by introducing legislation to impose caps on jury awards in medical malpractice cases.

In July, 2005, the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out the statutory limits on awards for pain, suffering and disability, emphasizing that the then-existing cap of $445,755 was arbirtary and unconstitutional. Citing concerns that uncapped jury awards will result in increased health costs, or drive doctors out of Wisconsin, Republican legislators passed a bill last year that would have imposed a cap of $450,000 on such noneconomic damage awards. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle vetoed the measure. The legislative effort put forward today would set a cap of $750,000. Whether the Governor would agree to that limit is uncertain.

Is $750,000 fair compensation to those exceptional victims of medical malpractice who face devastating disabilties or who face a long life of pain and suffering? Imagine an infant injured at birth due to malpractice by an obstetrician or hospital and facing a life afflicted with cerebral palsy. Would $750,000 provide a fair measure of justice to that child and the parents who will spend the rest of their lives caring for the child? Clearly not. The medical and insurance industry should not force the most severely injured victims to bear the burdens caused by health care providers who fail to follow applicable standards of care. The Wisconsin Supreme Court noted that there is no evidence that caps on pain and suffering awards have resulted in lower premiums charged to doctors, that they have affected doctors’ migration from one state to another, or caused them to practice defensive medicine, three justifications routinely offered by the insurance/medical lobby.

As my colleague Mike End says:”For the few people who are very badly injured and for whom the jury awards more than what the old cap used to be, they deserve what the jury decides to give them.”

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