$350,000 noneconomic damages cap held unconstitutional in Wisconsin
This year the Georgia General Assembly adopted a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. Noneconomic damages include physical and mental pain and suffering, permanent impairment, intangible value of life in a wrongful death case, etc. Today the Supreme Court of Wisconsin released a decision holding a similar Wisconsin statute unconstitutional, as there is no objectively rational basis for the cap. The full text of the decison appears below. Key quotes:
“Based on the available evidence, we cannot conclude that a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages is rationally related to the objective of ensuring quality health care by creating an environment that health care providers are likely to move into, or less likely to move out of, in Wisconsin. The available evidence indicates that health care providers do not decide to practice in a particular state based on the state’s cap on noneconomic damages.”
“The evidence does not suggest that a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages is rationally related to the objective of ensuring quality health care by preventing doctors from practicing defensive medicine. We agree with the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s finding that evidence of the effects of defensive medicine was ‘weak or inconclusive.'”
“The court must presume that the legislature’s judgment was sound and look for support for the legislative act. But the court cannot accept rationales so broad and speculative that they justify any enactment. ‘[W]hile the connection between means and ends need not be precise, it, at least, must have some objective basis.'”
The rationale used by the Wisconsin Supreme Court would appear fully applicable in Georgia. We have some strong, principled Supreme Court justices in Georgia. Whether a majority of them will have the political courage to make such a forthright and sensible decision remains to be seen. But since Governor Perdue’s House floor leader made an impassioned speech about the unconstitutionality of the cap, maybe we shouldn’t expect the worst even from Gov. Perdue’s recent appointee to the Supreme Court.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).