How It Got So Hard to Sue for Medical Malpractice in Wisconsin

July 1, 2014

Three years after her mother died, Sarah Schuh received a shocking call: It wasn't the car accident that had killed her mom, the caller said. She died because of "mess-ups" in the emergency room.

The caller: Zulfiqar Ali, the emergency room doctor who had treated Schuh's mother on the day she crashed her Honda CR-V into a marshy area near the Sheboygan River.

In almost any other state, that kind of disclosure would have likely paved the way for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Not in Wisconsin.

State laws and court rulings have combined to erect roadblocks at the doors of Wisconsin courthouses, placing strict limits on who can sue for medical malpractice, how much money they can collect and where the money will come from.

"There is no medical malpractice in Wisconsin," said Charles Stierman, once a top Milwaukee malpractice lawyer who stopped taking such cases in 2000. "Who wants to tilt at windmills?"

The number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in Wisconsin fell to 140 last year, a drop of more than 50% since 1999, court records show. Malpractice lawyers blame the decline on state laws that they say are skewed in favor of doctors and hospitals; medical groups contend that malpractice suits have declined because health care professionals have gotten better at their jobs.