Medical Malpractice Act overturned

Jeff Goldberg, attorney for Abigaile LeBron, displays a photo of his client during a press conference. Abigaile suffered severe brain damage at birth. Lisa Owad/Medill

By Lisa Owad
Feb. 4, 2010
Medill News Service

The Illinois Supreme Court overturned a law capping non-economic awards for medical malpractice Thursday. While supporters applaud the decision as a victory for patients’ rights, advocates for the caps worry the ruling will increase insurance costs, affecting the quality of care.

“Today marks the third time that the Illinois Supreme Court has declared those laws unconstitutional,” Peter Flowers, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, said at a press conference Thursday. “We are here today on behalf of the trial lawyers and Illinois citizens to say enough. Three strikes and you’re out.”

The Medical Malpractice Act of 2005 limited the amount medical malpractice victims could receive for emotional harm to $500,000 from doctors and $1 million from hospitals. Thursday’s ruling stemmed from LeBron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, the first case to challenge the 2005 law. Abigaile LeBron was born with severe brain damage in 2005 and sued for medical malpractice. The case is still pending.

The decision comes on a day the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated that health care spending increased by $134 billion in the past year, the largest one-year jump recorded.

“Overturning this law further strains our state’s already-failing health care system,” James L. Milam, M.D., Illinois State Medical Society president, said in a press release issued by ISMIE Mutual Insurance Company. “Losing medical lawsuit reform heaps even greater pressure on patients and doctors.”

ISMIE is the largest provider of liability insurance to physicians in Illinois.

The American Medical Association agreed. “Today’s court decision threatens to undo all that Illinois patients and physicians have gained under the cap,” J. James Rohack, M.D., the president of AMA, said in a press release. “When the cap was reinstated in 2005, premiums for Chicago physicians stabilized and even began to shrink.” Before caps on damages, premiums rose steadily 10 to 12 percent a year between 1997 and 2005, Rohack said.

Jeff Goldberg, the attorney for Abigaile hopes that the decision will be a wake-up call. “We hope…that the legislature will wake up and the insurance industry will stop trying to limit the rights arbitrarily for people that are severely injured and are the victims of medical negligence,” Goldberg said.

However, at least one attorney thought the ruling would have only minimal impact since few plaintiffs are ever awarded such large damages.

“There are a lot of us that don’t think it will make a noticeable impact on costs,” said Professor Bruce Ottley at DePaul University’s College of Law. “The caps (were) fairly substantial. Judgments above that are fairly rare.”

See this article at the Medill News Service

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