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The hospital and insurance industries have come up with another way to insulate themselves from accountability to victims of medical malpractice: remove the incentives of attorneys to accept these cases by cutting their fees.

A bill that would limit attorneys’ fees in medical malpractice cases is set for hearing on Monday, February 27 in Madison. It would limit attorney fees in medical malpractice cases to 40% of the first $50,000, 33 1/3 for the next $50,000, 25% on the next $500,000 and 15% of any amount over $600,000. Medical malpractice victims’ lawyers’ fees are already limited under existing law to one-third of the first $1 million recovered unless liability is stipulated within 180 days after the filing of the case, in which case the contingent fee is limited to 25%. The attorney fee is limited to 20% of any recovery over $1 million.

Who is pushing for these limitations? Not the malpractice victims who already have a hard time finding attorneys to take their cases. Rather, the medical and insurance establishment is instigating this change in order to make these complicated cases less attractive to attorneys. As Florida trial lawyer Paul Jess commented about a similar provision in that state:

Medical malpractice lawsuits are complex and expensive cases, especially with the necessary cost of hiring expert witnesses, said Paul Jess, general counsel for the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers. Many of these cases aren’t economically feasible to take with a low cap on the contingency fee, he said. It also creates an imbalance between the plaintiff and the defendant because there’s no limit on how much a medical malpractice defense lawyer can be paid, Jess said.

Laws limiting the fees for victims’ attorneys only serve to block the economically disadvantaged from entering the courthouse door; depriving them of their day in court. Unless victims have an attorney to right for them in these tough cases, the cases will not be brought. These victims have expensive medical bills, they and their caretaking family members have lost wages, and they cannot afford to pay attorneys to fight for them on an hourly basis, the way the insurance defense lawyers can. The result: the injured victims will go uncompensated by the doctors and hospitals who injure them, and negligent medical errors will go uncorrected.

This anti-patient bill should be rejected.

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