SB 138 Would Remove Roadblock to Justice for Wisconsin Families
MADISON - The Wisconsin Association for Justice today praised the State Senate for passing Senate Bill 138, known as the Family Justice Bill, on an 18-15 vote. The Family Justice Bill gives families of adult children or the parents of adult children the right to seek recourse against negligent doctors.
"On behalf of all Wisconsin families, we applaud the State Senators who voted to remove this roadblock to justice," said WAJ President, Christine Bremer Muggli of Wausau. "We are disappointed that the Senators who voted against the bill did so based on faulty information."
In debate on the Senate floor a flawed argument was made that the Family Justice Bill should not be passed because of a perceived weakness in the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, which pays medical malpractice awards exceeding one million dollars. The Family Justice Bill allows damages for loss of society and companionship, capped at $350,000. The integrity of the Fund is not an issue.
Under a loophole in the current law, parents of a single adult child, or the adult children of unmarried or widowed parents cannot seek recourse for medical malpractice through the civil justice system. Wisconsin is one of just a handful of states with such a law and it is considered to be the most restrictive in the nation.
"The current law sets up a roadblock for families seeking justice," said Bremer Muggli. "Right now a family can take a case to court when a doctor causes the death of a married parent, but not a widowed or divorced parent. You have to wonder how anyone could believe that parents shouldn't be able to seek justice when their 19-year-old single child dies as a result of medical negligence."
Under the current law, for example, if a 19-year-old young woman, single and living at home with her parents, were to die due to a health care provider's alleged negligence - the parents would be unable to file a wrongful death claim and seek justice for her death. If the young woman were 17 at the time her parents would have a claim and could seek justice.
It is important to note that the Family Justice Bill does not expand the number of people who can file a claim to more members of the same family. Rather, it ensures all families are treated the same way, and are able to hold the wrongdoer accountable. The law would continue to require proof that family members show they have suffered a loss of society and companionship, and a jury would make the final decision of whether damages should be awarded.
"We hope Speaker Huebsch and the Republican majority of the State Assembly will join their colleagues in the Senate and pass the Family Justice Bill," said Bremer Muggli.
Ayes - 18