Illinois Supreme Court rules against cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases
From press release
Feb. 4, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that capping jury awards for non-economic damages is unconstitutional.
The state’s high court upheld a previous Cook County Circuit Court ruling that found Illinois’ Medical Malpractice Act violated the state Constitution by impeding a jury’s right to establish reasonable damages.
The ruling could drive up health care costs in Illinois and is considered a serious threat to Illinois doctors and hospitals, whose liability insurance rates have remained steady or even decreased since the cap on non-economic damages went into effect in 2005.
Travis Akin, executive director of the Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch organization, said: “The 2005 medical malpractice reform law was a response to a real problem. Illinois residents were tired of seeing their doctors leave to practice medicine in other states. This was a common-sense law that was working, and by stepping in to overturn it, the Illinois Supreme Court has reopened the floodgates, causing Illinoisans to worry if their doctors will be there when they need them.”
A bi-partisan coalition of lawmakers approved the Illinois Medical Malpractice Act in 2005, despite strong objections from the Illinois trial lawyer lobby. When the reform legislation was signed into law, it was considered a major victory for doctors and the people of Illinois, many of whom were finding it increasingly difficult to access medical treatment, especially obstetrics and cutting-edge procedures and medical treatments.
Senate Republicans were extremely active in supporting and promoting medical malpractice reform, arguing that many doctors were buckling under the weight of skyrocketing insurance rates that were the result of frivolous lawsuits and runaway jury verdicts.
Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) said: “We are truly disappointed in the Supreme Court decision. At a time when skyrocketing health care costs threaten the care patients receive, the Illinois Supreme Court has jeopardized quality health care here. The bipartisan medical malpractice reform law was the result of nearly two years of hard work by the people of Illinois who recognized that comprehensive changes were needed to keep doctors practicing here. We have recently begun to see the successful results with improved access and lower costs. The Illinois General Assembly must revisit the issue again to maintain its credibility and restore some sanity to the civil justice system.”
The 2005 law only capped damages that have no dollar value, such as loss of companionship, pain and suffering, etc. These non-economic damages were limited because juries often award exorbitant amounts to plaintiffs based on emotion rather than the facts of the case. Because these awards were completely unpredictable, there was no way for insurance companies to determine what the premiums should be, thus they had to charge the doctors for the highest possible risk—which drove up the cost of care for everyone. However, no limits were placed on damages that result in financial costs to the injured party, such as loss of wages or medical expenses.
The state’s skyrocketing medical malpractice rates forced many physicians and specialists to flee Illinois, particularly in border areas and the Chicago metropolitan region, because rates in neighboring states were much more reasonable. As a result, some Illinois residents had limited or no access to much-needed medical care.
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