Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Caps Declared Unconstitutional in Illinois


A judge in Cook County, Illinois, has ruled that the state's medical malpractice cap - which places a limit on the amount that a jury can award a plaintiff who files a medical malpractice lawsuit - is unconstitutional.

The medical malpractice cap currently in place in Illinois is at $125,000 per year, which is routinely far lower than the cost of many medical bills for personal injuries and thus the verdicts that juries across the country return.

Although the recent decision is only a trial court ruling, the decision is consistent with previous Illinois Supreme Court rulings. The Supreme Court struck down two previous cap statutes as unconstitutional. The most recent, enacted in 1995 and struck down in 1997, imposed limitations very similar to the ones set forth in the current statute. The primary difference was that those limits applied to all civil cases, not just medical malpractice claims.

Defendants of the medical malpractice caps point to the enormous burden that insurance companies would face, a burden that would be passed on to doctors in the form of dramatically-raised insurance premiums. Some doctors, they argue, may even be forced to move out of state, to areas in which premiums are more reasonable.

The Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) issued a press release in response to the ruling that proclaimed, "Verdict Could Derail Illinoisans' Health Care Access." Theodore B. Olson, former U.S. Solicitor General and now lead counsel for the ISMS team fighting to keep the law alive, said, "It's a well-documented fact that reforms like these are working in other states."

But what does "working" mean? Olson seems to mean that reforms are lowering malpractice premiums, which in turn make doctors more willing and able to work in the state.

But for the physicians involved, the numbers just don't seem to add up. During the first half of 2007, the rate of malpractice claim payouts was 12 per 1,000 doctors. At the previous year's average - chosen because it includes many cases filed before the effective date of the statute and therefore not subject to the new limitations - that's a payout of about $3,019,680 per 1,000 doctors per year.

We all know that the insurance companies aren't hurting, but for some reason that seems less obvious to the physicians, who are as much victims of the insurance companies' maximum-profit-to-the-exclusion-of-all-else approach as personal injury victims are.

If the Illinois Supreme Court remains consistent with its prior rulings, Illinois looks to be poised to be the testing ground to find out whether or not all of the dire predictions of the insurance industry and medical community come to pass when a state just won't get with the program.

Injury lawyers may also be affected by this legislation.

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