Illinois Supreme Court Uncaps Medical Malpractice Awards… Again

The battle over tort reform is being fought on every front, namely, media and public opinion, federal and state legislatures, and the judicial system. In Illinois, at least, the Supreme Court has stood up for its citizens civil rights and rejected a state law capping damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, finding that such a statute violates the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches. More specifically, it was determined that legislative caps on pain and suffering interferes with the Courts rights and discretion to reduce jury verdicts.

The Illinois law in question sought to cap damages against Hospitals at $1 million dollars and $500,000 against doctors and other health professionals. The case, Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, is one of many similar cases being fought across the Country right now.

Medical malpractice caps do not work, result in substandard medical care, and is not the magic fix-all for the healthcare crisis that certain interest groups deem it to be. Furthermore, several studies show that doctors actually pay less in malpractice premiums, when adjusted for inflation, than they did decades ago. The latter study stemming from our own Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

I have indicated in previous posts, here, and here, that tort reform is not the answer to this Country’s health care problems. For one, the Congressional Budget Office has declared that malpractice costs are minimal in the large scheme of things. Second, medical malpractice attorneys, despite large potential reward, will only accept a very small percentage of cases. This is because it costs tens of thousands of dollars to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit, and many medical malpractice cases are unsuccessful. Therefore, if only the most obvious of medical errors are being challenged in the court systems, a great many errors go unpunished. This seems to combat the impression that doctors face countless “frivolous” lawsuits at the hands of greedy plaintiff attorneys.

Let’s hear it for the Illinois Supreme Court. They have recognized that the judicial system is the best vehicle for protecting innocent doctors while awarding victims truly harmed by medical error. Let’s hope that all States will follow their lead.