A state cap on non-economic damage awards in medical malpractice cases has been ruled unconstitutional.
In a unanimous ruling issued Wednesday by a three judge panel, the First District Appellate Court found Wisconsin’s $750,000 limit imposes an “unfair and illogical burden” on those who are catastrophically injured, denying them equal protection under the law.
In the opinion, Judge Joan Kessler found that the cap imposed by Republican lawmakers and Governor Scott Walker in 2011 “always reduces non-economic damages only for the class of the most severely injured victims who have been awarded damages exceeding the cap, yet always allows full damages to the less severely injured malpractice victims.”
The case was based on a circuit court judgement for Ascaris Mayo, who had her arms and legs amputated because of an untreated septic infection. While state law did allow her to receive payment for medical costs, a $15 million judgment for non-economic damages was reduced to $750,000 because of the cap.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association criticized the decision, arguing it could make it harder for patients in rural areas or inner cities to find treatment, if it’s allowed to stand. “Upsetting the Legislature’s informed policy decision by invalidating Wisconsin’s cap on non-economic damages will negatively impact Wisconsin communities’ efforts to attract physicians to provide accessible, quality health care to their residents,” argued WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding in a statement.
Borgerding said he expects the decision will be appealed to the state Supreme Court and eventually overturned.