In a 74 to 22 vote, the Wisconsin state Assembly approved legislation late Thursday night capping damages awarded in cases of medical malpractice.

Mike Prentiss, spokesperson for bill co-sponsor Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he was "very happy the Assembly voted in a bipartisan fashion" regarding the future of Wisconsin's health system.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 1073, caps the limit of non-economic pain and suffering damages that can be rewarded in medical malpractice cases.

"AB 1073 provides for $750,000 in non-economic medical malpractice caps and economic loss remains unlimited," said Mark Michaelsen, spokesperson for bill author Rep. Curt Gielow, R-Mequon.

Gielow introduced the bill last month as a response to the Assembly's recent failure to override Gov. Jim Doyle's veto of a similar measure.

The previous bill aimed to cap pain and suffering awards for adults and minors at $450,000 and $550,000, respectively.

Without fixed caps, cap supporters expressed concern for the future of the state's health care industry.

"Wisconsin's physicians are among the nation's best," Michaelsen said. "[W]ithout medical-malpractice caps in place, we might drive physicians out of Wisconsin."

However, some members of Wisconsin's legal system view the caps as unconstitutional.

The Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers deemed the caps "arbitrary," stating in a release that medical malpractice cases would become increasingly unpredictable.

Prentiss, however, maintained AB 1073's proposed cap is not arbitrary, as it was strategically fixed at $750,000 to meet demands on both sides of the argument.

While debate escalates regarding the measure's constitutionality, supporters continue to point to the importance of protecting the state's health care industry.

"Restoring caps is good for Wisconsin," University of Wisconsin Health spokesperson Jon Sender said. "[I]t enables physicians the ability to provide care for patients without running numerous tests for fear of being sued."

The non-economic damages cap does not affect all physicians in Wisconsin, Sender added, as a stricter cap already protects physicians considered to be state employees.

"There are over 900 clinical physicians throughout Wisconsin on the faculty of the UW School [of Medicine and Public] Health," he said. "[S]ince they are state employees, they have fixed liability caps of $250,000."

Although the caps do not directly affect UW doctors, Sender said limits would benefit Wisconsin's health care system as a whole.

The State Senate must approve AB 1073 before it is forwarded to the governor for review.

The bill is part of a set of Assembly measures aimed at reforming state policy concerning medical malpractice lawsuits.