"Wisconsin's New "I'm Sorry" Law:
A Giant Step Backward for Patient Safety"
April 9, 2014 (Madison) When Governor Scott Walker yesterday signed the controversial, "I'm Sorry" bill, Wisconsin patient safety took a radical turn for the worse.
By signing the bill it became even more difficult for patients and their families to prove medical malpractice. This leaves Wisconsin alone in a legal category as compared to the rest of the country.
Under the new law, a healthcare worker who expresses fault, liability, or responsibility for a medical procedure that has gone horribly wrong will not have to explain that admission in court. In fact, those words will never be used because the new law prohibits them from ever being used in a legal proceeding.
"A physician indicating regret for something that has gone wrong is one thing," said Christopher Stombaugh, President of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, "but to admit to catastrophic carelessness and not be held responsible when you told the truth about what you did is another."
"The healthcare worker said it, people heard them say it, but now we have to go to court and pretend it didn't happen," said Stombaugh. "If the purpose of the trial is to discover the truth this law does just the opposite. It hides the truth."
Stombaugh rejects the notion that this law is about curbing the number of medical malpractice cases that get filed in Wisconsin."In Wisconsin, only a fraction of medical negligence cases are filed in comparison with the actual number of medical errors that happen every day," said Stombaugh.
Court records show that the number of Wisconsin medical malpractice cases dropped significantly in the last decade. In 2013, only 140 people filed a medical malpractice suit in Wisconsin circuit court. Health care statistics support the conclusion that more than 27,000 Wisconsinites are injured or killed annually by medical negligence.
"Signing this bill puts politics over patient safety," said Stombaugh. "It goes well beyond an honest desire to express true compassion and perverts it into allowing a provider to admit responsibility and yet have no actual accountability."
It is testament to the extreme nature of this new law that both WAJ and the Wisconsin State Bar Litigation Section Board, comprised equally of plaintiff and defense lawyers unanimously opposed including the words, "fault, liability," and, "responsibility," in the final version of the bill.
WAJ has consistently supported the principle that writing and statements of regret, sympathy, or benevolence by a healthcare worker would be inadmissible in court.
Thirty-six other states have a version of, "I'm Sorry," legislation but Wisconsin's law goes further than any other. The law also gives the same shield not only to doctors and hospitals but also to nursing home and adult residential home employees.
"I'm Sorry" takes the law out of the hands of judges and juries and hands it on a silver platter to the medical community," said Stombaugh, "and that's just wrong."