In 2005 the Illinois General Assembly passed a measure that placed arbitrary caps on noneconomic damages in Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits. Five years later, in 2010, the state’s Supreme Court struck down the law for violating the separation of powers clause in the state constitution. The 2010 ruling was the third in a series of medical malpractice cap laws that had been found to violate the commands of the state constitution. The court last struck down a similar law in 1997. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers applauded the decisions as important rulings that ensured the protections of basic rights for all Illinoisans.
Unfortunately, citizens in other states have not had their rights protected in similar ways. Legislators in various local governments have passed cap laws and other tort reform measures. High courts in some of those other states have upheld those laws. Of course, each state constitution is somewhat different and the perspective of judges on each state court is different, and so it is not altogether surprising that the outcomes in those court cases have varied.
In many states the legislative and legal battles around these issues are ongoing. For example, the News-Leader reported this week on a case that was argued in front of the Missouri Supreme Court this week. The case was a challenge to a Missouri law in 2005 that capped non-economic damage awards at $350,000. The specific case challenging the law is a medical malpractice lawsuit involving mistakes made during birth that caused serious injury to the child. Attorneys in the case argued that the medical team providing care during the birth failed to respond to fetal distress resulting in the child suffering permanent and debilitating brain injuries. The child suffers from cerebral palsy, will never be able to walk, and will require around-the-clock care for the rest of his life.
The jury in the case found for the plaintiff and awarded $1.45 million in non-economic damages. Because of the arbitrary law, the family did not receive most of the award. The family has appealed the reduction of the damages on the grounds that reducing the award issued by a jury violates the family’s right to a trial by jury—which is guaranteed in the state’s constitution. In addition, some legal experts involved in the case suggest that the law violates the state’s equal protection clause, because it provides special legal rights to medical care providers that are not given to other civil defendants.
The rights medical patients throughout the country need to be defended—that includes protecting the right to receive legal awards handed down by a jury. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys appreciate that even here in Illinois the rights of patients is not permanently secure. That is because lawmakers at the federal level are attempting to pass federal legislation that would essentially overrule individual state determinations of these issues. This federal proposal (H.R. 5) was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and awaits action in the Senate. It remains important to voice strong opposition to each of these measures.
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