2011 Wisconsin Law Conceals Nursing Home Abuse Records

Critics claim a Wisconsin tort reform law is frustrating legitimate abuse and negligence lawsuits and prosecutions against nursing homes, hospices, and other long term providers.

This “Wisconsin Act 2 of 2011” law affects the investigation records of nursing homes, as well as a facility’s incident reports, which are created after a resident’s injury or death. The law bars the application of the reports and records in either civil or criminal cases, notes this article in The Chippewa Herald, a local newspaper. (Among other stringent requirements, the legislation also sets a $750,000 cap on damages against providers, as this explainer points out.) For instance, attorneys can’t use state reports to affirm allegations or impeach witnesses, as the article notes.

“It scares me for those who put their trust in a facility,” said the mother of a brain-damaged son. She claims her son suffered serious neglect for four months while in a nursing home. Because of Wisconsin 2, her attorney can’t use state investigation records for her lawsuit. “It scares me to think of things that could be brushed aside,” she said. “I don’t rest so easy anymore.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers sponsored the law, claiming it would create jobs by reducing corporate litigation costs. Walker did this although the rate of Wisconsin wrongful deathpersonal injury, and medical malpractice suits had declined by some 28 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Opponents argued that the measures would only shield health care providers that neglect or abuse patients. Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge William Hanrahan, a former county and state prosecutor, claimed the law “troubled” him. “There are witness statements in state inspection reports. You can’t replace those,” Hanrahan said. “I can’t imagine if it were a homicide. It would be like saying the police reports couldn’t be used.”

The law makes it harder to prosecute facilities or staff for neglect or abuse, said a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Dept. of Justice. There may be “situations where we cannot intervene as early as we could before to avoid more serious neglect and abuse” in facilities, she claimed.

Obviously there are serious repercussions for victimized patients and their families. Nursing home residents “often don’t have the capacity to testify about what happened to them,” says an attorney with Disability Rights Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy group.

According to the nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica, in the past three years, 102 of Indiana’s 390 nursing homes had “serious deficiencies” and racked up a total of $1.65 million in fines. These deficiencies cover a broad range of nursing home abuse and neglect.

Nursing home abuse is a crime that deserves a response. If you suspect that your loved one is the victim of nursing home abuse, call Sokolove Law today for a free case evaluation.

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