The Wisconsin Omnibus Tort Reform Act and Nursing Home Abuse

by Sokolove Law

We’ve heard a lot about the unions in Wisconsin losing their collective bargaining rights under the direction of Gov. Scott Walker, so much so that some other pretty major news coming out of Madison has been completely overshadowed.

The Wisconsin Omnibus Tort Reform Act was passed by the Wisconsin legislature in January 2011 with such speed and with such little coverage that even seasoned observers could not fully grasp the implications.

In a nutshell it’s this: if you or a loved one are injured or killed by nursing home abuse, suing the offending nursing home is going to be next to impossible.

Why?

Because the new bill makes abuse reports – which form the backbone of any nursing home abuse trial – completely inadmissible as evidence in any action against the nursing home. This effectively throws up a major roadblock to anyone seeking justice in a case of nursing home abuse. But if the victim’s nursing home abuse attorney does manage to get over this hurdle, there’s another one. The law also caps non-economic damage awards at $750,000, a move that heavily benefits operators of large, corporate, for-profit nursing homes.

Not surprisingly, the entire law benefits the nursing home industry, which supported Gov. Walker during his election. The rise in the number of corporate, for-profit nursing homes is often cited as one of the reasons for the staggering rise in nursing home abuse incidents. Corporations are in the business of making money, and one of the easiest ways for them to do this is reduce staff levels and pay their workers low wages.

This law is kind to Scott Walker’s corporate backers in other ways too. It shifts liability for defective goods away from the distributer to the manufacturer (Good luck suing a factory in China!), creates a 15-year statute of limitations on issues related to exposure to asbestos and other products (asbestos-related diseases have a 20-50 year latency period), and defines new standards for expert witnesses.

Some observers claim that the law is meant to punish trial lawyers, including the Wisconsin nursing home abuse attorneys who opposed Walker’s election.

According to one Wisconsin lawyer quoted in the Washington Spectator, “This is payback time. The governor is settling the score with trial lawyers who didn’t support him. And he’s taking care of his donors, the for-profit nursing home operators, especially the big ones like Kindred.”

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