The Morris Daily Herald recently posted a series of letters from advocates discussing the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision that found arbitrary caps of damage awards in certain lawsuits to be an unconstitutional abuse of the state legislative power. The state Supreme Court in that recent high-profile case, Abigaile Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, found that a small girl could not be limited in her damage recovery following a medical error that caused devastating injuries.
Travis Akin, executive director of the group Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW) published an article attacking the judges on the Illinois Supreme Court who made the decision. In criticizing the judges he postulated that they have “potentially reopened the floodgates, causing Illinoisans to worry if their doctors will be there when they need them.”
In response to Akin’s position, leaders of the largest public interest organization in Illinois, Citizen Action, wrote into the publication to express support for the state judges and to counter Akin’s misleading statements. As the group points out, far from being “activists”-basing new legal decisions off personal policy preferences-the 4 justices in the majority in the Lebron decision were following a long line of legal precedent dating back thirty five years. The legal principle separating the functions of the legislative branch of the state government and the judicial branch are well-established and important parts of the legal tradition. The law overturned in the case is simply not in compliance with the Constitution created by our state delegates and voted in by the public. We cannot allow one of the three co-equal governing branches infringe on the powers of the other.
Besides the foundational misunderstanding, Citizen Action also pointed out the quantitative evidence which undermines Akin’s position. Far from re-opening so-called “floodgates” of lawsuits, the striking down of the law is unlikely to have any effect other than preserving fairness in the justice system. Before the arbitrary cap was put into place in the state, medical malpractice lawsuits were actually decreasing.
Finally, Citizen Action mentioned the one group often forgotten in talks about medical malpractice-insurance companies. Unlike the unconstitutional law recently struck down by the state high court, a 2005 law that finally required insurance reform has been shown to be working exactly as intended. The law shone light on the rate-setting and payout figures of these companies, which spurred competition and lowered premiums.
Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers at Levin & Perconti understand the emotions involved in the debate about medical malpractice caps. However, our decades of experience fighting for victims of medical errors has made clear that the real danger is not in driving away qualified doctors, but in insulating negligent doctors from taking responsibility for their mistakes. The justice system’s role in helping victims of those mistakes should never be limited by arbitrary legislative actions.