Last updated: August 18. 2014 11:51AM - 536 Views
By Jeremy Wallace

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According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: state mediation panels don’t work; fix them

Patients and their families deserve answers when something goes wrong in a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office, but all too often in Wisconsin there are no answers.

The Journal Sentinel’s Cary Spivak has documented how a system of state laws and court rulings have made it hard to seek damages in court for medical malpractice, and his Sunday article shows that a state-sponsored mediation system is little more than a cruel joke on the victims.

The state’s Medical Mediation Panels, operating as an arm of the state Supreme Court, was created as “an informal, inexpensive and expedient means for resolving (medical malpractice) disputes without litigation.”

But victims shouldn’t expect closure after a mediation session. Of 302 claims filed in 2012 and 2013, only two actually were resolved. More than 60% end up listed as “expired,” meaning the complaints died because of procedural or scheduling problems; only 67 even went to a hearing, Spivak reported.

Given the difficulty in seeking justice in court, the state should at least have an effective mediation process. But it does not. State officials should address this concern by strengthening the process and ensuring that legitimate cases at least get a hearing.

Right now, that doesn’t happen.

A big part of the problem is a rather large loophole that the Legislature created when it created the panels in 1986: If the agency doesn’t schedule a hearing within 90 days of a complaint being filed, no extension is allowed unless all parties agree to one. After that, if any of the litigants refuses an extension, the case is closed. In effect, any of the participants has veto power — and that veto power is used most often by (you guessed it) the defendants.

Plaintiffs, of course, still can choose to go to court, but it’s a slog — the defense wins nine out of 10 medical malpractice cases that go to trial. And in Wisconsin, that combination of state law and court rulings has made it harder to even get inside the courthouse door, let alone get to trial.

The mediation process is dirt cheap — it only costs $11 to file, and complainants are supposed to get a doctor, a lawyer and a layperson to hear their case and attempt to resolve it. Usually, it ends in disappointment for the plaintiffs.

“I can’t think of a recent case I’ve had where (the panel) played a role in resolving it,” Milwaukee plaintiffs’ attorney Ann S. Jacobs, president-elect of the Wisconsin Association of Justice, a trade group for plaintiffs lawyers, told Spivak.

State officials should strengthen this process or get rid of it. Based on Spivak’s reporting, it’s hard to see how it has very much value for those seeking answers.

According to The Record Journal of Meriden: Target ousted its CEO

In wake of last year’s computer security breaches, which reinforces the importance of companies protecting customer information stored digitally.

Gregg Steinhafel became the company’s chief corporate executive in 2008 and seemed to have achieved more good than harm. That is, until just before Christmas 2013. As the holiday shopping season approached, hackers got through Target’s digital security systems and made off with approximately 40 million credit and debit card numbers. One month later, a different cyberattack resulted in hackers obtaining names, phone numbers, emails and mailing addresses of about 70 million customers. Multiple security breaches of such sizes, and in such a short time frame, indicate failure by top executives to pursue and enact appropriate safeguards. Steinhafel had to go.

While few people may feel badly for the dethroned CEO (his severance payout reportedly topped $55 million), Steinhafel’s downfall is an important lesson for business professionals. In the digital age, computer systems that store consumer data must be tightly guarded against cyber intrusion. When stolen, personal information such as bank account numbers can cause substantial challenges and headaches for customers. It can be quite the frustrating endeavor to cancel credit cards, square off with insurance companies and change numerous passwords.

Companies whose security shortcomings result in customers undergoing those trials should not count on forgiveness from affected clientele — or even from those who just heard of the breach. Security failures of the last holiday season badly damaged Target’s reputation and profits. People wondered: Why shop at a store that has inadequate defense against hackers when you can buy from a business with a better record of protecting consumer information?

Target received criticism in years past for its reluctance to expand into online shopping and mobile platforms. Now it seems that the company was also lax in building up digital security systems capable of resisting today’s technologically advanced hackers. Other stores and companies should take note, and not fall behind the advance of cyber technology.

If financially feasible, it is well worth the investment to shore up the security of whatever programs collect and store digital data. Otherwise, businesses risk an irreconcilable loss of private info that could lead them, like Target, to face a clientele base suddenly short on trust and looking to shop somewhere else better protected against ever-evolving threats.

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