Wis. woman challenges state law that caps malpractice damages against state-employed doctors

  • Updated: July 29, 2013 - 11:50 AM

MADISON, Wis. — A Verona woman is mounting what's believed to be the first challenge to a 1979 state law that caps malpractice damages against University of Wisconsin doctors at $250,000.

A jury this month awarded Terri Fiez $1.8 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit against a UW doctor. But the law limits the total damages that can be assessed against UW doctors, the Wisconsin State Journal reported (http://bit.ly/14dAaxY ).

Fiez, 55, is challenging the cap in Dane County court, saying the jury's wishes should be respected.

"It's hard for me to understand why the doctors who work for UW hospital would be treated different from other doctors," she said.

The cap was imposed to protect taxpayers and state government, and it specifically refers to state-employed doctors such as those at UW. For most other doctors, patients who prevail in malpractice lawsuits can win much greater awards. There's no cap for medical expenses, and damages for pain and suffering are capped at $750,000.

Fiez's attorney, Eric Farnsworth, said the state law creates a double-standard for patients, depending on where they get treated.

"If you're having a heart attack and the ambulance takes a left to UW Hospital versus a right to Meriter (Hospital), your widow is going to be significantly worse off if they make a fatal mistake," Farnsworth said.

It's not clear why the 1979 law has never been challenged before, said Jeff Pitman, the president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice. His group represents trial lawyers who lobby for higher damage awards.

Pitman speculated that this might be one of the rare malpractice cases in which a UW doctor lost and the jury award exceeded $250,000.

A hearing on Fiez's case is scheduled for Aug. 27.

A jury awarded her $1.8 million on July 1 for the wrongful death of her 61-year-old husband, Robert Fiez, who died in 2010.

Robert Fiez went to UW Hospital's emergency room complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. A doctor suspected heart disease or a lung clot, according to the lawsuit.

Fiez was admitted to the hospital, where tests ruled out heart failure and coronary artery disease. Dr. Jonathan Keevil, a cardiologist, discharged Fiez without testing for a lung clot, the lawsuit said. Keevil told Fiez to follow up with his doctor in a month.

Fiez died four days later, and autopsy results pointed to lung clots as the cause of death, the lawsuit said.

Keevil and UW Health spokeswoman Lisa Brunette declined to comment to the State Journal.

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