Wisconsin caps on noneconomic damages may be a leading factor in the state’s rank as the lowest in medical malpractice claims per capita. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recorded last year that 84 malpractice suits were filed in the entire state, a record low. A study of the National Practitioner Data Bank showed that six of every 1 million residents collected a malpractice claim.

The trend is a national one, though Wisconsin’s case may be extreme.

According to Bernard Black, a law professor at Northwestern, “Medical malpractice is going away everywhere.”

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Some in Wisconsin frame the issue more dramatically.

“Does anybody really believe that only 37 doctors in Wisconsin made mistakes?” asked Ann Jacobs, president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, the state’s trial lawyer advocacy group.

Wisconsin laws limit noneconomic damages to $750,000, which is thought to be a principal cause for the downward trend. About 35 states have caps.

There is “. . . an atmosphere where plaintiff’s counsel are very likely to lose,” said James Cutglass, a defense attorney who specializes in defending medical practitioners in the state.

Reporters at the Journal Sentinel considered whether improvements in patient safety might be contributing to the reduction. They asked University of Texas law professor Ronen Avraham to explain the national trend. Avraham said that, although there was no single cause that could be identified, state laws tended to suppress the number of actions filed. “Unfortunately, there is no evidence that patient safety is part of the story,” he explained.

Ann Latner, JD, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.