NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A DISASTROUS DECISION

February 8, 2010

The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday declared caps on pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice trials unconstitutional.  The court struck down a 2005 state law intended to address the rising costs of medical liability insurance by limiting damages at $500,000 for physicians and $1 million for hospitals.  The court ruled that the law infringes on the state constitution's separation of powers by impeding on the judiciary's ability to set appropriate damage levels in cases. 

The decision drew criticism from business, physician and hospital groups that support medical malpractice reform as a way to curb escalating health costs.  Attorneys' groups, however, praised the decision. 

According to the Chicago Tribune: 

  • Before the 2005 law, malpractice costs were skyrocketing in Illinois because insurers, fearful of runaway jury verdicts, would not do business there.
  • They also knew that more than 20 states had some caps on damages, making those states much safer places to do business. 

Malpractice premiums in Illinois were particularly egregious for doctors in riskier specialties such as obstetrics and neurosurgery.  As a result, doctors were leaving, particularly doctors in rural areas.  They couldn't afford to practice in their communities.  That made it more difficult for patients to find the care they needed, says the Tribune. 

The 2005 law eased the crisis.  Malpractice premiums declined.  The exodus of doctors stopped, says the Tribune. 

As a result of this ruling, doctors, hospitals and patients in Illinois will almost certainly face new risks, says the Tribune. 

Source: Editorial, "A Disastrous Decision," Chicago Tribune, February 5, 2010; and Nathan Koppel, "Illinois Supreme Court Tosses Malpractice-Award Curbs," Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2010. 

For Journal text:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703357104575045624066646704.html  

For Illinois Supreme Court opinion:

http://www.state.il.us/court/OPINIONS/SupremeCourt/2010/February/105741.pdf 

 

Browse more articles on Health Issues