On Friday, October 3, Milwaukee County Judge Jeffrey Conen issued an order and decision in which he struck down Wisconsin’s $750,000 limit for non-economic damages medical malpractice cases. The case is Mayo v. Wisconsin Injured Patients Compensation Fund, et al., 2012CV006272 (Oct. 3, 2014).
The plaintiff, Ascaris Mayo, went to the emergency room suffering from a fever and acute abdominal pain. The physicians (defendants) included a possible infection in their diagnosis, but ultimately treated Mrs. Mayo for uterine fibroids based on her medical history. She was discharged and instructed to visit her gynecologist.
Mrs. Mayo’s illness worsened, and she visited a different emergency room the next day. She was diagnosed with a septic infection caused by Strep A. As a result of the infection, Mrs. Mayo had all four limbs amputated.
Mrs. Mayo and her husband (Mr. Mayo) filed a lawsuit against the physicians and the Wisconsin Patients and Family Compensation Fund, claiming the defendants were negligent in their diagnosis and treatment of Mrs. Mayo.
The jury found that defendants were not medically negligent in their diagnosis and treatment of Mrs. Mayo. However, the jury found that the defendants failed to properly inform Mrs. Mayo about the availability of antibiotics to treat her suspected infection. In addition, the jury found that the defendants’ failure to discuss the possibility of infection or the availability of antibiotics was a cause of Mrs. Mayo’s injuries.
The jury awarded Mrs. Mayo $9 million in economic damages and $15.5 million in noneconomic damages. The jury also awarded Mr. Mayo $1.5 million in noneconomic damages for loss of society and companionship.
Judge Conen Strikes Down Statutory Limits on Noneconomic Damages
In a surprising decision, Judge Jeffrey Conen ignored the Wisconsin Legislature’s reasonable limit of $750,000 for noneconomic damages and held that the law was unconstitutional as applied to the Mayos.
In 2006, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted the new $750,000 limit for noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the previous $350,000 limit on noneconomic damages in a highly controversial decision, Ferdon ex rel. Petrucelli v. Wis. Patients Comp. Fund, 2005 WI 125.
Judge Conen held that the statute violated the Mayos’ right to due process and equal protection and thus unconstitutional. Judge Conen limited his decision by holding the statute unconstitutional as it applies only to the plaintiff, as opposed to a facial challenge. Therefore, Judge Conen’s decision does not strike down the statute in all cases.
Case Likely to be Appealed and Overturned
Judge Conen’s decision is an outlier and likely will not be upheld by the court of appeals or the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. The decision likely will be overturned based on another recent court of appeals decision (Fiez v. Keevil, 2013AP2711) upholding the $250,000 limits for damages against state employees as constitutional. For more information about the Fiez decision, please click here.)
 The Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund provides payments to injured patients for malpractice claims that exceed a health provider’s primary malpractice coverage.