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Families of Medical Error Victims: We Need Justice from State Lawmakers

October 17, 2007

Madison, WI – In many cases of wrongful death in Wisconsin, families aren't able to have their day in court; and a bill being considered by state lawmakers would change that. The "Family Justice Bill" would affect two groups: parents of unmarried adult children, and adult children of widowed or unmarried parents, who can't sue for wrongful death in cases of medical malpractice.

Eric Rice of Middleton lost his 20-year-old daughter after her medical condition was misdiagnosed. He helped form the Family Justice Network to change what he calls a "discriminatory" law, and he says more than 70 families in similar situations have joined him. They are frustrated with current state law, which prevents them from holding healthcare providers accountable for errors.

"It just tears your heart apart when you hear these stories, and they cannot take any steps to get justice, to get accountability. Your family can never get to trial, your family can never force the doctors to tell you what happened."

Rice says because families are excluded from seeking damages, many of these cases never end up in court,and yet, court is the only place where details about the case are revealed.

"The only way they have to tell you is if you can take them to court. Then they have to do depositions, and they have to tell the truth. So there are many people in the state of Wisconsin who can never find out what happened, and never have the ability to get justice."

Critics of the "Family Justice Bill" say it would open the door to more lawsuits, increasing malpractice insurance costs. Supporters say it's needed to hold health care providers accountable in all cases of malpractice. There's a hearing on the bill in the Wisconsin state Senate today.

Rob Ferrett/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WI