The goal of a medical malpractice lawsuit is often an emotional one: to hold a negligent medical provider accountable for their actions or failure to act that caused an injury or death of a patient. Nothing can reverse what has been done, but victims or their families nevertheless seek justice. In addition, victims or families also seek to be compensated for the injury or loss. While this too will never change what happened, it is a necessary element for plaintiffs to seek redress in the form of damages in order to maintain a legitimate claim. What potential litigants should understand, however, is the scope of possible damages they may seek, and what specific damages are possible in the state of Illinois.
As has been publicized in the world of personal injury law, the 2010 case of Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital significantly altered the landscape of medical malpractice law by finding the cap on the recovery of non-economic damages in such actions unconstitutional. This cap had been legislated in 2005 until its invalidation by the highest court of the state. This grounds for such action rested in a classic separation of powers argument, in which the Illinois Supreme Court determined that it was not up to the legislature, but rather up to the judiciary (either judge or jury) to assess damages on a case-by-case basis.
Non-economic effectively differs from economic damages in that economic damages focus solely on making the victim economically whole again, or at least as much as possible. Lost income, loss of potential income, medical expenses, and other hard and more easily calculable figures make up the category of economic damages. Non-economic damages on the other hand include awards for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other similar damages that cannot be so easily quantified, but nevertheless are quantified if a judge or jury determines a case merits such an award to further compensate a victim. Punitive damages also exist as a means of punishing defendants for their acts. However, punitive damages are not allowed against medical providers for medical malpractice in the state of Illinois.
What Is An Acceptable Award?
An acceptable award is mostly up to a judge or jury to determine on a case-by-case basis. Seldom will an award of damages in a medical malpractice be overturned on review. While the actual legal merits of cases, such as determining liability, are argued on the basis of comparing the facts of the case to previous cases and precedent, damages awards are not so much. In the case of Dobyns v. Chung in the 5th District of Illinois, a jury returned a medical malpractice/wrongful death verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $50,000. The plaintiff filed motions for the court to re-consider the damages, including a motion to hold a new trial on that very issue. These trial level motions went nowhere, and were similarly rejected on appeal. The plaintiff unsuccessfully argued that his award was not on part with other verdicts in similar cases within the state judicial system. The appeals court, however, stated that it is within the discretion of the judge or jury to make damages awards based on how they specifically see the case without measuring it against other cases and verdicts with which they may not be substantially familiar.
Based on this case and long-held principle within Illinois, it is important to understand that an issue of damages will really be determined based on the jury or judge’s unique view of one’s unique medical malpractice claim. This is something to consider and expect when bringing forth such a lawsuit.
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