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New Wisconsin bill enforces higher burden of proof for doctors

The state of Wisconsin has long held the honor of having some of the most competent medical doctors in the country. Only 117 medical malpractice suits were filed in 2013.

Conversely, some reports estimate that between 220,000 and 440,000 patient deaths occur yearly, indicating malpractice ranks as the third highest cause of death, after heart disease and cancer.

A new bill took effect last year that made it even more challenging to sue a doctor for negligence. The bill, passed with bipartisan support, affects how the courts determine whether a doctor has fulfilled his responsibility to provide the patient with all necessary medical information involved in making a critical health decision.

Prior to this bill, the law referred to a state of "informed consent" with guidelines that held the physician responsible for presenting all reasonable treatment options to a patient. But, the modification states a doctor can be found liable for neglecting to present pertinent information in a patient's case that could cause serious medical consequences.

The new law was based on precedence of a previous case of a patient who was not offered a test that would have determined if a stroke had caused facial paralysis. The doctor had diagnosed the paralysis on Bells Palsy, but never explained it could also have been caused by a stroke. Thus, the patient sued on the basis of misdiagnosis.

The patient then had a second stroke that caused further paralysis that could have been prevented if the original diagnosis had been correct. While the jury did not find the physician negligent in a misdiagnosis, it did find the doctor remiss in failing to provide options of tests that could have been performed to prevent a second stroke. The court awarded the patient $2 million in damages, a verdict that was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Strokes or traumatic brain injuries have been the focus of mass media attention due to recent football-related concussions. These issues can have tragic, life-long effects. If you have been misinformed by a doctor or hospital of a possible treatment that could have prevented a significant illness, stroke or brain injury, it is your right under the law to have seasoned individuals knowledgeable in the area to protect your rights under the law.

Source: The Cap Times, "Doctors vs. lawyers: Debate rages over state medical malpractice law" Jack Craver, Mar. 01, 2014

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