Wisconsin was one of the first states to reform its medical liability system, passing Wis. Stat. 655 in 1975 in response to the medical liability crisis of the era. The law was intended to reduce the premium burden on the stateâ€™s medical community, while preserving citizensâ€™ access to healthcare. It mandated a minimum limit of liability for healthcare workers of $200,000 per claim and $600,000 per year, beyond which the healthcare provider would have no personal liability. The stateâ€™s new patient compensation fund (PCF) â€“ also created through the statute â€“ would pay for judgments greater than this amount.
Wisconsin refined this legislation several times, creating a $1 million cap on noneconomic damages with the passage of Wisconsin Act 340 in 1985. Act 340 expired in 1991, but four years later, the Wisconsin Legislature revisited damage caps, resetting them at $350,000 and allowing for inflation. They also enacted a law barring the application of the joint-and-several-liability rule when recovering damages from defendants found to be less than 51 percent at fault. The updated rules for joint-and-several liability were a major victory for the stateâ€™s healthcare community.
In a 2005 ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared the stateâ€™s $350,000 noneconomic damage cap unconstitutional, saying it violated the equal protection provision of the state constitution. Lawmakers responded in 2006 with a re-write of the noneconomic damages cap, now setting it at $750,000 and widening the language to pass constitutional muster. Further reforms in 2011 discouraged plaintiffs from filing frivolous claims, improved rules of evidence and raised the standard for qualifying expert testimony, among other measures.
In July of 2017, a Wisconsin 1st District Court of Appeals ruled the stateâ€™s $750,000 cap on noneconomic damages is unconstitutional for imposing an illogical burden on injured patients, denying them equal protection. The decision is being appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.