Imagine how you would feel if you lost a child as a result of medical negligence and could not file a medical negligence lawsuit. This is a “three strikes and you’re out” story.
Strike One: On April 5, 1999, Erin Rice sought medical attention for an upset stomach, vomiting, signs of nausea, shortness of breath, and a bad cough. Two-weeks later, she died; the cause of death? Bacteria pneumonia. Strike Two: Ten months later, Erin’s family learned that she actually had viral cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart, caused by a virus. Despite the fact that an X-ray technician had noticed that Erin’s heart was enlarged, no one ever relayed that important information to Erin or her family. This news was as devastating has Erin’s death; her parents were understandably upset at the quality of her medical care and readied themselves to retain an attorney and file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Strike Three: Another shock was yet to come – the parents could not file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Under a terribly unjust Wisconsin law, parents are barred from pursuing a lawsuit over the death of an adult child (Erin was 20 at the time of her death) in medical malpractice wrongful death cases. The law also applies to an adult child that loses a divorced or widowed parent as a result of medical malpractice. No such ban exists for other wrongful deaths in Wisconsin, such as those caused by drunken drivers or other negligent acts. Because Erin was a legal adult at the time of her death and her death was the result of medical negligence, her parents could not file suit for justice. If the same negligent doctor had killed in an auto accident, the parents could pursue the case, but not if the doctor was negligent in his care for her rather than behind the wheel. He could be drunk, texting, incompetent, inattentive; he could be the worst care-giver in the history of medicine, a doctor who has been kicked out of every state in the union, but in Wisconsin, he can kill Erin without legal consequence. Wisconsin also has a $750,000 cap on “noneconomic” (pain & suffering) damages. The cap is even lower, $250,000, if the doctor is employed by the state. Can you believe it?! Wisconsin may be worse than TEXAS! Apparently, both states love bad doctors.
Patient safety and medical error reduction and/or prevention should be the focus of pro-citizen legislatures. Protecting and licensing bad doctors, providing them legislative protections to kill citizens should not be a goal of any legislator. Yet, more and more states are passing these draconian anti-patient statutes in the name of “keeping doctors from leaving the state”. What citizen, what legislator, would want an incompetent doctor to practice medicine in his/her state? Would any want to be treated by the doctor who treated Erin Rice? If it was their family member, their daughter, their loved one, would they want the right, granted by the 7th Amendment of the Constitution, to seek and receive civil justice? This case is a travesty; a young person is dead, death was absolutely preventable, treatment was negligent and there is absolutely no accountability for the perpetrator. Apparently, the Wisconsin legislature values the profits of an insurance company and the pocketbooks of a hospital or a doctor more than it values the life of a young citizen with everything to live for.
To discriminate against two classes of people – parents of adult children and adult children-is wrong; to deny accountability when someone is killed is wrong. While no amount of money would compensate the Rice family for the loss of their daughter, compensation for pain and suffering, as well as punishment to the wrongdoer must be part of a pro-safety, pro-citizen model. There is no reason, none, to immunize doctors from the damage they cause due to negligence. Wisconsin, and all, citizens deserve better.
We have been complacent in the face of injustice for too long. We must all be proactive in protecting our rights from being trampled on by the powerful health care industry and pro-insurance lobbies. Until patient safety is the first and only priority of health care providers, a lawsuit is the only vehicle to achieve punishment for wrongdoing and prevention from further misconduct. The only source of redress or ability to prevent further harm is for a citizen to pursue his or her own claim through the legal process Contact Governor Scott Walker; see where he stands on correcting this injustice. Ask his political opponent where he stands. Get involved in the process. If you don’t like what you hear from one, prepare to vote for the other and encourage others to do so. We have the power to effect change; we must begin to use it in America. Otherwise, we have only ourselves to blame.
Experienced attorney, lawsuit funding expert, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. The series consists of "Betrayal of Faith", "Betrayal of Justice", and "Betrayal in Blue", with a fourth book due out in 2019. You can learn more about these topical political, legal thrillers at markmbello.com. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.