Four justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court accepted more than $37,000 dollars in campaign contributions from organizations they sided with in a recent case. The case involved how much money victims can receive in medical malpractice lawsuits.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority accepted donations from health care organizations, insurance groups, and business associations that stood to benefit from the court’s recent ruling in Ascaris Mayo v. Wisconsin Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund.
Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Matthew Rothschild says that these organizations got the ruling they wanted.
“The investment that the business community has made in the Wisconsin Supreme Court really pays off,” he says. “These industry groups gave $37,000 in campaign contributions to the conservative justices who ruled on this case […] and handed them a huge victory.”
Last week, the court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s $750,000 cap on payouts for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Non-economic damages are anything that isn’t a financial loss like wages or medical bills; it can include disability or disfigurement, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Rothschild calls the ruling unfair.
“The Republican legislature … had limited non-economic damages to $750,000, so the question is: Was that law illegal?” he says. “The justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the arbitrary $750,000 ceiling. So if you’re totally victimized by medical malpractice, you cannot get a fair reimbursement by a jury anymore because there’s this ceiling that you can’t go above.”
In the case of Ascaris Mayo, she had to have both her arms and legs amputated due to medical malpractice at a Milwaukee hospital in 2011. A jury awarded her $15 million in non-economic damages, along with an extra $1.5 million for her husband.
However, the 5–2 decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court last week reversed that order. By upholding the state law capping non-economic damages, the Mayo family’s payout shrunk from $16.5 million to $750,000. Mayo’s lawyers argue that that’s not enough to cover even the financial impact of the case.
Lobbyist groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, and others stood to benefit from maintaining the cap. Rothschild points out that these groups are the ones who donated to the conservative justices who ruled in their favor. He says that money should not play a role in how important decisions like the Mayo case get decided.
“Here you have the power of money at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, our highest court here in the state, having a pernicious influence on the outcome of these cases,” he says. “We have a very corrupt Wisconsin Supreme Court, and this case is just the latest example of that.”
This story was reported by Richelle Wilson for WORT News.