KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Illinois High Court Rules Medical Malpractice Caps Are Unconstitutional

The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a medical malpractice law enacted in 2005 that limited monetary damages to $1 million from hospitals and $500,000 from doctors for pain and suffering, the Chicago Tribune reports. "The much-anticipated ruling deals a blow to doctors and hospital officials who say caps on damages are a way to tame rising health care costs. … The court said the law violates the state's separation-of-powers clause between the branches of government by allowing lawmakers to interfere with a jury's right to determine damages." Other states have similar laws that still stand, including California (Japsen and Sachdev, 2/4).

The New York Times: "The ruling came down as federal proposals to cap malpractice awards are receiving fresh attention on Capitol Hill. Republicans enthusiastically support the limits, and they are seen as a potential vehicle for restarting the stalled health care negotiations in Congress with bipartisan impetus. ... According to the American Medical Association, courts in 16 states have upheld the laws, while those in 11 states have overturned them." The Illinois state medical society says that the law had driven down malpractice claims and insurance premiums for doctors (Sack, 2/4).

The Wall Street Journal: "The Illinois case is 'part of a national trend by the plaintiffs' bar to challenge damage caps,' says Mark Behrens, a Washington, D.C., defense lawyer with Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP who tracks liability trends nationwide. … The Illinois suit was filed by Francis Lebron and her daughter, who was born in 2005 with cerebral palsy and other impairments. The Lebrons sued Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Ill., along with a doctor and nurse involved in the delivery, alleging negligence. The hospital didn't return a call for comment" (Koppel, 2/4).

The Associated Press/Chicago Sun-Times: "A Cook County judge ruled in 2007 that caps interfered with juries' power to award appropriate damage awards for medical errors. That sent the issue to the high court" (2/4).

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