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Illinois Hearing Highlights Problems with Tort Reform

States around the country are making terrible mistakes by enacting draconian tort reform measures that strip injured patients of their rights to recover from doctors and other medical professionals who hurt them. The only way there is to hold these healthcare providers responsible for their negligence is by filing medical malpractice claims. In spite of the importance of medical malpractice litigation, some state legislatures like those in Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin have taken steps to severely curtail these lawsuits. Fortunately, it appears that Illinois will not be falling for the tort reform any time soon.

Illinois Committee of the Whole Holds Tort Reform Hearing

Last month the Illinois Committee of the Whole held an hours long hearing on tort reform reports the Illinois News Network. There currently are not any official proposals on the table for tort reform in Illinois, but it is always a possibility and the insurance lobby never stops pushing for measures like damage caps. Fortunately at this hearing victims of medical malpractice had an opportunity to speak out and remind legislators why damage caps are so harmful. In addition to these medical malpractice victims, victims of other types of torts also came forward and testified about why general personal injury or wrongful death damage caps would be harmful. The widows of two dead state troopers were among those who testified.

Elizabeth Sauter, a woman whose trooper husband was killed in 2013 by a semi-truck, explained to the legislators why caps would hurt people like her. She said, “Putting a cap on penalizing these companies just further encourages them to make careless decisions and continue unsafe practices. Putting a cap on these lawsuits means you care more about big businesses than you do about the citizens you represent.” This exact same reasoning applies in the medical malpractice context. Caps prevent accountability, plain and simple.

Researchers Testified that Caps Do Not Effect Where Doctors Practice

In addition to this important victim testimony, the legislators also heard from researchers who were able to explain that caps on damages do not actually have any effect on where doctors windup practicing. This information is particularly important because tort-reform proponents often use the scare tactic of claiming that all of the doctors will leave if caps are not put in place. The theory is that if there are no caps then insurance premiums will be higher and doctors will move away to avoid high premiums.

What this theory ignores is the reality that doctors are human beings and human beings have to and do consider many factors when deciding where to live. In addition to cost of living they consider where they come from, where their family lives, what their immediate family member’s needs and wants are, what job opportunities are available, and the quality of life a community offers. If the tort reformer’s logic were true, then no one would live places like New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, or even Chicago. A two-bedroom home with a large fenced yard and a garage costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in Chicago, but can be had for as little as $60,000 in rural America. Yet people choose to live in Chicago. The same is true when it comes to malpractice premiums–just because they are more expensive in some locations does not mean that doctors will refuse to live there if the location is otherwise desirable.

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