Wisconsin State Government Flips to Republican Control, Tort Reform Takes Center Stage in New Legislative Agenda

February 7, 2011 by matray

side note: Here is the lead story in the February 2011 issue of Medical Liability Monitor. MLM is a must-read for those in the medical professional liability insurance industry. Wisconsin could be the best barometer of a reshaped political landscape following the Nov. 2, 2010, elections—the only state in the union where both legislative houses and the governor’s office flipped from Democratic to Republican control. Think of it as a petri dish of reclaimed conservative influence upon government. The day after his inauguration, newly minted Gov. Scott Walker convened the Wisconsin Legislature in a special session to discuss five bills intended to create a more business-friendly environment, one of which—the Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQI)—contains medical liability tort reforms. With a 19-14 majority in the Wisconsin Senate and a 60-38-1 edge in the Assembly, the state’s Republican legislators were able to quickly usher Gov. Walker’s agenda through with minimal difficulty. According to Walker, the liability reforms will discourage plaintiffs from filing frivolous claims, cap non-economic damages for medical malpractice, improve rules of evidence, protect best practices peer review information from being subpoenaed and raise the standards for qualifying expert testimony. “Improving our state’s legal climate is important to creating an environment that allows the private sector to create jobs,” Walker said. “The lawsuit reform package passed by the legislature will bring much needed reforms to our legal system, so we are no longer known as the ‘Alabama of the North.’” Much of the recently passed legislation is identical to reforms drafted in 2005 and ultimately vetoed by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. Those in Wisconsin’s Democratic Party and its usual allies contend that liability reform will not create a single job and will ultimately harm the state’s patients in the long run. Specific to their argument that the new legislation will actually harm Wisconsin patients is the section of the law that would prevent reports from state regulators that find problems at healthcare facilities as well as statements from employees of a healthcare provider from being admissable in court. “The people in our communities who make up the courtroom juries are the same people our elected officials entrust to elect them,” said Mike End, president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, the largest voluntary statewide plaintiff bar in Wisconsin. “With this bill our elected officials are saying that they know best—not the people and the judge in the courtroom—when it comes to determining who is at fault and who can testify.” Proponents of the bill argue that the legislation will improve patient safety because one of the greatest challenges hospitals face is persuading doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to report errors. They assert that if these professionals know that an incident report will not be subpoenaed, they will be much more likely to report a medical error and provide information that could prevent future errors. “The Health Care Quality Improvement Act will put Wisconsin at the forefront of the patient safety and quality improvement movement, leading to better outcomes for patients and better healthcare value,” said Stephen F. Brenton, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association. “Under the proposal, healthcare providers will be able to study and improve practices, and importantly, share what they learn with others without fear of those findings being used against them in a lawsuit. These changes will bolster the work of organizations, including the state’s regulatory agencies, that work to improve patient safety and healthcare quality.”

Posted in American Association for Justice, Medical Malpractice, Medical Malpractice News, Medical Professional Liability Insurance, Midwest, Politics, Republicans, The Economy, Tort Reform, Wisconsin | Leave a comment

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