Recently, judges in Madison County met with the Illinois State Medical Society and its insurance company (the largest medical malpractice insurer in the state), and included numerous lawyers. There were concerns, however, that judges may have been succumbing to political forces influenced by the insurance companies. The meeting ultimately resulted in the implementation of new tort rules, which were announced Monday, June 18, 2007. The rules include mandatory mediation for all malpractice lawsuits in an effort to encourage settlements out of court and required monthly meetings of a panel of judges to discuss pending medical malpractice lawsuits.
Plaintiffs will have the opportunity to amend complaints in order to comply with the Illinois state law requiring all cases to be reviewed by physicians prior to filing. Additionally, plaintiffs are not going to be forced into settlement agreements, and participating in the mediation will not imply guilt for defendants who deny liability. There is no harm for either side in promoting controlled mediation to encourage settlements over expensive and drawn-out trials if they are unnecessary. However, the impact of these new regulations could prove to be marginal at best.
Madison County, Illinois has been a hotbed of activity in the nation’s ongoing debate regarding civil justice reform. In an effort to strike a compromise between medical malpractice insurers and attorneys, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation in Madison County limiting the amount of pain and suffering that can be awarded in a lawsuit in order to please the insurance companies, while also imposing reform in the physician insurance industry. The only party not considered in this compromise was the patients, especially those in the most need, who are hurt by the caps on fair compensation and damages. The insurance reform, however, will benefit doctors, patients, and victims of malpractice while only abating the profits made by the insurers. The insurance companies, unfortunately, seem to have a hold on the political arena, as demonstrated by President Bush’s speech in Madison County regarding civil justice reform.
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