Tort reform refers to changes in civil (as opposed to criminal) justice systems that reduce litigation or damages. In Wisconsin, tort reform that was proposed ostensibly to make the state more welcoming for business and to prevent frivolous lawsuits, has made it more difficult to hold long-term care providers accountable for abuse and neglect of residents. A law that went into effect in February 2011 bars families from using state investigation reports as evidence in civil lawsuits against nursing homes and other care facilities. Health investigation records are also inadmissible in criminal cases involving abuse and neglect by providers.
An article in theNORTHWESTERN.com, 2/17/13, describes the plight of a 32-year-old man with spina bifida, brain damage, and paralysis who lived in a group home in Menominee, Wisconsin. He developed a bedsore that was so severe that doctors feared that he could be permanently bedridden. A state health department investigation report found that he had the bedsore for four months before he was hospitalized, a fact that the group home provider did not report to the state or his mother as they were required to do. The mother is suing the group home provider for damages, but her attorney is barred from using the state reports as evidence of neglect in court because of the law.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association and Wisconsin Medical Society favor the law, arguing "that barring use of state investigation records in lawsuits and prosecutions lets providers discuss problems more openly, thereby improving patient care." Wisconsin's Governor Walker defended the law, "saying it was needed to forestall 'this constant pattern of litigation' that could be seen as a negative by employers. He added that 'frivolous lawsuits (are) a huge barrier to economic growth and development.'"
The severely disabled man is slowly recovering after nine months lying on his stomach in a hospital and receiving treatment for his wound. He now lives in a nursing home.
I have to remind myself that this is not Bizarro world. This is Wisconsin!