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Court of Appeals upholds damages cap

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals filed a decision today in Fiez v. Keevil, et al. upholding the constitutionality of the statutory cap on damages recoverable against state employees, including state-employed physicians. The decision was welcomed by the Wisconsin Medical Society for preventing potential destabilization of the Wisconsin medical liability system.

Under Wisconsin law, the total amount of damages recoverable against a state employee in a lawsuit is capped at $250,000. In Fiez, the jury found a cardiologist at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics negligent in his care of Robert Fiez and awarded the plaintiffs (Mr. Fiez’s widow and his estate) approximately $1.8 million in damages. However, that amount was reduced by the trial court to approximately $500,000 due to the statutory cap applicable to claims against state employees. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the cap violated their constitutional right to equal protection, the right to determination by a jury and the right to a remedy guaranteed by the Wisconsin Constitution.

The Society, jointly with the Wisconsin Hospital Association, filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the Court of Appeals, arguing that the statutory cap on damages applicable to state employees, including state-employed physicians, is an important component of the Wisconsin medical liability system, and any changes to that system should be made by the legislature, not the courts. A copy of the Society’s brief can be found here.

The Court of Appeals held that the cap on damages recoverable against state employees does not violate the Wisconsin Constitution. The Court found a rational basis in the Wisconsin legislature’s choice to limit the potential losses sufferable by the state and found that reducing the amount of damages awarded by a jury to the maximum amount allowed by the statute does not deprive plaintiffs of their right to a remedy or right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeals specifically noted that these issues have been addressed and decided in previous Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions.

The Court of Appeals’ decision can be found here. It is not certain whether the plaintiffs will petition the Wisconsin Supreme Court for review of the Court of Appeals’ decision or whether the Wisconsin Supreme Court would agree to hear the case. The Society will continue to monitor this case and update members accordingly.

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