Eau Claire Leader Telegram: Family medicine
Proposed legislation could give adult children additional rights

January 21, 2008
By Christena T. O'Brien

Inez Woodford died in 1996 after bypass surgery performed by Dr. M. Terry McEnany at Luther Hospital. The Augusta resident was 83.

Three years later, her son, Romane, filed a medical malpractice suit against the cardiologist, who had retired and surrendered his medical license in 1998 while under investigation by the state Medical Examining Board.

Like other adult children who sued McEnany after the death of a parent, Woodford's lawsuit was dismissed because under current law adult children don't have the right to recover for the loss of society and companionship of a parent who has died as a result of medical malpractice.

Proposed legislation, if approved, would amend the law, giving adult children that right.

The legislation - scheduled to be voted on Tuesday by the state Senate - also would provide that parents have the right to recover for loss of society and companionship if their children are injured as a result of medical malpractice, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.

The state Senate Health, Human Services, Insurance and Job Creation Committee, which includes Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, passed the bill Dec. 5.

Vinehout supported the bill in committee and plans to support it again Tuesday.

"It's an issue of justice and fairness, being able to treat every family member the same," she said Friday from Madison.

During a public hearing, "we heard from people who had lost someone very special in their family," Vinehout said. "That loss is forever, .... but in clear-cut cases of medical malpractice, there's no recourse (for some family members), and it's wrong. We're hoping to fix that."

State Sen. Pat Kreitlow, D-Chippewa Falls, said he believes there's nothing to fix and plans to oppose the bill.

"I don't see anything to be gained by expanding the pool of those who can bring a lawsuit," he said, adding that his stance on the proposal is not to say that doctors who engage in malpractice shouldn't have action taken against them.

The bill would ensure all families are treated the same way and are able to hold a wrongdoer accountable, according to the Wisconsin Association for Justice, the former Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers.

The law would continue to require family members to show they have suffered a loss of society and companionship, and a jury would make the final decision on whether damages should be awarded.

McEnany was sued 28 times in Wisconsin for medical malpractice but never was found negligent in a case that went to a jury. Not all cases filed against him, including the suit filed by Romane Woodford, made it to a jury.

Woodford said he hopes the Senate will pass the bill Tuesday, so others with claims of medical malpractice get the chance.

"The way the law is now is just stupid," he said. "If I want to sue the doctor for what I feel was wrong, it shouldn't matter how old I am."

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