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Medical Malpractice Caps Struck Down in Illinois: The Beginning of a Refreshing New Trend?

In an early February 2010 decision that startled many and overjoyed others, the Illinois Supreme Court slapped down that state’s version of medical malpractice “tort reform”; the law that imposed caps on damages to medical malpractice victims. The law was first passed in 2005, and Illinois personal injury victims and their attorneys have been battling against these unfair laws even since. The original cap was set as $500,000 for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages in any suit against a physician and $1 million for any claims filed against a hospital.

The key reason that the high court determined the law to be unconstitutional was that it violated the Separation of Powers clause of the Illinois Constitution. In essence, the legislature was trying to substitute its judgment for that of judges and/or juries. Since the constitution guarantees independent branches of government, (executive, legislative and judicial), tort reform like this allows the legislative branch to trample on the domain of the judicial branch, a clearly unconstitutional endeavor. This decision has really ticked off insurance companies; they are grumbling that it will increase the cost cost of medical malpractice insurance and drive doctors out of the State to other locations where caps are still in effect.

In reality, this decision was a victory for justice; victims of medical malpractice plaintiffs now stand a fair and equitable chance of a full and fair hearing on their injuries and disabilities and a just recovery in a medical malpractice lawsuit. And, the reality is that damage caps don’t solve a single thing when it comes to medical liability. Instead, caps leave people that desperately need to be compensated for severe, life-long injuries without enough money to survive. Caps shift the burden from the private insurance carrier, hospital and/or doctor, where it belongs, to the victim, and, when a capped award runs out, to the public in increased taxes.

This brave and refreshing decision of the Illinois Supreme Court won’t end the national debate about tort reform, but it strikes a blow to the advocates of shifting the cost of medical malpractice from insurance companies to innocent victims and, ultimately, to the public. Lawsuit Financial, the pro-justice lawsuit funding company, thinks that is a good thing; what do you think?

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