The Record reported this morning on a new medical malpractice lawsuit that some observers want to be used to mount a successful challenge to one state’s unfortunate medical malpractice damage cap law. The law-known as the Medical injury Compensation Reform Act-limits pain and suffering jury awards to $250,000. This means that regardless of how much a jury agrees should be paid in a particular case, the amount will be decreased to this default amount. However, some are working to challenge the constitutionality of that law.
The latest case involves a 49-year old man who was killed in 2006 due to hospital negligence while being treated for a motorcycle accident. Specifically, the surgeon in that case was negligent in taking the man off life-support far too early. The doctor removed critical medical services and was preparing the man to go home while ignoring clear signs that his body was shutting down. Following an earlier medical malpractice case, a jury in the community agreed that the widow of the man was entitled to $8.5 million from the negligent surgeon and hospital that caused his death. However, per the arbitrary law, that award was decreased to a mere fraction of the award deemed appropriate by neutral jury members.
However, the case is now being appealed on the grounds that the law which reduced the award violates the state’s constitution. Victim advocates explain how the caps are an affront to juries and a clear violation of the victim’s right to a jury trial. The role of judges have also been tampered with, because they now have no discretion to raise and lower awards basic on any perceived juror irregularity.
Yet, there are avenues for victims to challenge the constitutionality of these laws. A legislature makes these laws, but it is up to the court system to specifically interpret how those laws apply in a particular case and to ensure that those laws conform with the requirements of a constitution. If a victim believes that the law is contrary to a provision in the constitution, then the victim can file a suit on those specific grounds. The case then works its way through the court system with the attorneys explaining to judges specifically how the law runs counter to the mandates of the constitution and must therefore be rejected. Various levels of trial and appellate courts exists so that once one court reaches a decision, it may be heard again by another panel of judges. In cases dealing with constitutional issues such as this it is usually ultimately decided by the highest court in the state. In those cases, the supreme court either takes the case and makes a definitive decision or decides not to hear the case, thereby essentially upholding the decision of the lower court.
Readers may be familiar with the fact that Illinois medical malpractice damage caps were ruled unconstitutional a few years ago by our own state Supreme Court. We remain in steadfast support of all those who are fighting against these misguided “caps” that take away victims right, disregard the role of the jury, and eliminate all judicial discretion. Contrary to misleading reports, we know that frivolous Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits have little to no effect on the overall cost of healthcare. It remains irresponsible for legislature to bow down to large interests for their own benefit at the expense of regular community members who suffer devastating loss through no fault of their own.
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