Illinois Medical Malpractice Caps Ruled Unconstitutional, Appeal Filed

By January 2, 2008Medical Malpractice

Illinois’ medical malpractice damage caps were declared unconstitutional by a Cook County Circuit Judge on November 13, 2007. On December 13, 2007 the hospital and doctor filed a notice of appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court in an effort have the decision overturned.
In 2005, the Illinois legislature passed Public Act 94-677 which capped non-economic damages, also known as pain and suffering awards, at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals. The new law came on the heels of a scare campaign waged by insurance companies, hospitals and doctors. That campaign blamed lawsuits for skyrocketing insurance rates and claimed doctors were leaving the state as a result.
What they didn’t tell the public was that the insurance industry was responsible for the high rates and that insurance reform was needed. Unfortunately, the politicians passed a measure that protected hospitals and doctors and insurance companies at the expense of patients.
Abigaile Lebron, an infant, was one such patient. It is alleged that Abigaile’s delivery was botched, leaving her with permanent and severe brain damage. In 2006, a medical malpractice suit was filed against Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, Dr. Robert Levi-D’Ancona and Florence Martinez, a nurse.
Abigaile’s lawyers challenged the constitutionality of the medical malpractice caps, arguing that the law stripped away a patient’s right to seek redress in court. Cook County Circuit Judge Joan Larsen agreed. On Nov. 13, she ruled that the legislature cannot interfere with the right of judges and juries to determine fair damages. The caps, Larsen concluded, violate the “separation of powers” clause in the Illinois Constitution.
In the ruling, Larsen relied on two Illinois Supreme Court decisions, Best v. Taylor Machine Works, 179 Ill.2d 367 (1997) and Wright v. Central DuPage Hospital Association, 63 Ill.2d 313 (1976), ran afoul of the state constitution.
After Judge Larsen’s ruling, the defendants vowed to take their challenge to the Illinois Supreme Court. On Dec. 12, they made good on that promise.
I think the earliest will see a ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court will be by the end of August. This case will be closely watched. Perhaps by that time, the constitutionality of Missouri’s $350,000 medical malpractice cap will also have been challenged, which is much more draconian than the Illinois cap.