Wisconsin Governor Vetoes Med-Mal Award Cap Legislation

By | December 5, 2005

Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed legislation that would have capped the amount of money medical malpractice victims could win in court for their pain and suffering, an issue that has been a political flash point in states across the country.

Republican lawmakers drafted the measure to limit non-economic damages to $450,000 for adults and $550,000 for minors after the state Supreme Court struck down Wisconsin’s previous cap as unconstitutional.

The court said then that there was no rational basis for the limit, and Doyle, a Democrat, said in announcing his veto Friday that the court likely would strike down the proposed caps for the same reason.

“Approving a law that would quickly be overturned doesn’t do anyone any good,” Doyle said in a written statement.

Assembly Speaker John Gard, a Republican, said he would try to muster the two-thirds vote of both chambers necessary to override the veto. Republicans control the Assembly 60-39 and the Senate 19-14.

“These malpractice rates have got to be controlled. Otherwise, health insurance costs are going to continue to skyrocket,” Gard said.

The previous cap, adjusted annually for inflation, was about $445,000 when the court struck it down it July.

The court said it created two classes: people with less severe injuries who could get full compensation, and people hurt more severely who could not. It also violated a victim’s constitutional right to equal protection and trial by jury, the court added.

George Quinn, senior vice president of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, a hospital advocacy group, warned that the high costs related to expensive medical malpractice awards would drive up health care costs and force doctors to leave Wisconsin for other states with more physician-friendly laws.

“The point we have been stressing here is it has a real detrimental impact on the access to health care,” Quinn said.

About half the states cap non-economic damages in lawsuits. Congress has also considered federal legislation to cap at $250,000 jury awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice suits.

Topics Legislation Wisconsin

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