Ruling sends Ill. med-mal damages cap straight to SC

Rob Luke Nov. 14, 2007, 11:00am

Illinois Supreme Court

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A contentious ruling against the state's medical-malpractice caps on punitive damages will automatically be reviewed by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane Joan Larsen ruled Nov. 14 for plaintiffs that the caps violate victims' rights and are thus unconstitutional. Under the law "non-economic damages" cannot exceed $500,000 per doctor or $1 million per hospital.

In 2003, Texas capped noneconomic damages in med mal suits at $250,000 and death suits at $1.6 million, one of the lowest caps in the country. Since the reform, Texas has seen a flood of new applications for physicians.

The Illinois Hospital Association (IHA) expressed disappointment with Larsen's ruling, but added that the case will now go straight to the Supreme Court for review instead of making an appellate-level pit-stop. Larsen's ruling applies only to cases before her, the IHA statement pointed out.

IHA will now "mount a vigorous defense of this critically needed law to protect hospitals, patients and the health care delivery system" before the Supreme Court, it added.

Larsen ruled that the bill, passed with bipartisan support in 2005, interferes with juries' right to assess "fair damages," Crain's Chicago Business reported yesterday. The case could proceed to the top bench by next summer, Crain's added.

"The law is critically needed to preserve and enhance access to health care for Illinoisans and remains the most appropriate, meaningful and comprehensive solution to address the medical liability crisis," the IHA statement also read.

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